2009 | Director: Ruben Fleischer | Writers: Paul Wernick and Rhett Reese (created TV’s “The Joe Schmo Show” and produced “I’m a Celebrity…Get Me out of Here!”)
Other, less accurate reviews for “Zombieland” will lead you to believe that the horror-comedy is One of the Year’s Best, a Laugh Riot, or perhaps even a Scare-Fest with Heart; but don’t believe the hype. Not to say that the movie, the brainchild of reality TV gurus Paul Wernick and Rhett Reese, isn’t passable; on the contrary, “Zombieland” is above average across the board. But simply “above average” feels like some sort of failure in this case, considering the media buildup and previous critical success of superior films in the same genre (Edgar Wright‘s “Shaun of the Dead,” for one).
Jesse Eisenberg (“The Education of Charlie Banks”) plays a lonely young man nicknamed Columbus, whose post-zombie-apocalypse world revolves around following a stringent set of rules–such as “limber up” and “don’t be a hero”–that have kept him alive thus far. He soon comes across gun-happy, twinkie-obsessed traveler, Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson, “EDtv”), who agrees to give him a lift across the corpse-strewn wasteland of middle America–that is, until the two are waylaid by a conniving sister act, made up of Wichita (Emma Stone, “Superbad”) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin, “Little Miss Sunshine”), and roped into heading toward the supposed last zombie-free area in the states: Pacific Playland, a beloved amusement park of yore. Naturally, the four very-different survivors butt heads, but they also crack a lot of heads–zombie heads! LOL.
Being, as I mentioned, above average in all aspects, “Zombieland” is a semi-disappointing “good” film, in that it’s decently funny, but not uproariously so; moderately stylish, though, more often than not, in a grating manner; sort of gory, though not in a style befitting any zombie film, comedy or otherwise, with nary a scare in sight. Eisenberg is this generation’s Michael Cera–provided the last generation started having kids at the age of nine–and his stammering, nebbish rule-follower is a fairly strong character here, matched up especially well with a perfectly-cast Harrelson, whose dumb, violent zombie-hunter’s arc is the only one tinged with pathos. Unfortunately this means that aside from those scant instances where his human depth is explored, “Zombieland” serves as a mere joke delivery service spruced up with 3D titles and nervous narration.
The film’s strongest moments play out in a second act detour with a sizeable celebrity cameo; in these scenes a certain type of deadpan (if you’ll pardon the pun), intelligent humor plays out winningly, but it only serves to deaden (if you’ll pardon the pun) the rest of the film’s visually-focused comedy by comparison. In a year so far devoid of truly funny films, “Zombieland” definitely stands out as a unique, entertaining highlight, but that may say more about a failing in the movie industry than it does about this movie’s marginal success.
Rating: Three of Five Stars