Release Date: Oct. 2
Director: Ruben Fleischer
Writers: Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone
Cinematographer: Michael Bonvillain
Studio/Run Time: Columbia, 87 mins.
The great American (zombie) road trip
Most zombie movies take time to establish the genre’s
familiar sense of creeping unease and paranoia. It’s the tradition culled from
George Romero’s venerable Dead series:
the creation of a world-as-we-know-it, and its destruction by societal
disintegration and cannibalistic chaos.
Not so with Zombieland,
whose opening shot frames an inverted U.S. Capitol before a bloodthirsty
revenant engulfs the screen seconds later, vomiting blood and chunks of flesh.
This is no longer America, our narrator and protagonist (Jesse Eisenberg)
informs us. This is Zombieland.
First-time director Ruben Fleischer eagerly flips genre conventions; there’s no
piercing social commentary cached in the narrative or Michael Bonvillain’s (Cloverfield) slick cinematography. Equal parts gorefest and
buddy-comedy, the film’s deadpan tone is doubly clear when Metallica’s “For
Whom the Bell Tolls” thunders over the opening credits.
Eisenberg is pitch-perfect, transplanting his nerdy
equivocation to a world where that extreme introversion birthed a list of
zombie-infestation survival rules (comically superimposed on the screen in
appropriate situations). He’s a man with no family, no friends and no name. Or
rather, he’s given the nom-de-guerre Columbus by the surly Tallahassee (Woody
Harrelson in rare form), a cowboy-booted, misanthropic road warrior with a
stylish flair for exterminating ghouls and a burning hunger for Twinkies.
Tallahassee prefers nicknames—that way, you don’t get emotionally attached.
They set out on a road trip across post-apocalyptic
America, navigating a series of blood-spattered set-pieces and wasting barely a
moment of the tight 87-minute run time. The liberal use of slo-mo never flirts
with cheese, surprisingly enough, adding heft to the cavalcade of ultraviolent
eviscerations and “Dueling Banjos”-fueled zombie takedowns. The duo forms an
uneasy truce with con-artists Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail
Breslin), and they decide to roll four-deep to an amusement park outside L.A.
rumored to be one of the last zombie-free zones. When the gang gate-crashes a
Beverly Hills mansion en route, a celebrity who will not be named here features
in a show-stealing extended cameo.
As the film reaches its conclusion, the carnival ride mentality
seamlessly shifts into an all-out shoot-em-up, complete with homage to the
frenetic gunplay of John Woo. It’s definitely gratuitous, and the conclusion
leaves no lasting insight aside from the value of knowing when to “nut up or
shut up.” But Zombieland succeeds
because it doesn’t aspire to be anything more than a smart, well-produced
action flick with snappy dialogue and memorable characters. Like Columbus’ rule
number 32, it takes time to enjoy the little things. And all those little
things add up to a fun, funny road movie. With zombies.