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.