Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Learn The Rules And You May Just Survive Zombieland

In Zombieland, Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) has made a habit of running from what scares him. Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson) doesn't have fears. If he did, he'd kick their ever-living ass. In a world overrun by zombies, these two are perfectly evolved survivors. But now, they're about to stare down the most terrifying prospect of all: each other.

Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), one of the few fresh humans left in a post-apocalyptic world overrun with bloodthirsty zombies, has devised a method in which to preserve himself (and his sanity… kind of). That hide-saving scheme is comprised of following 47 imperatively important rules for survival, most of which center around driving (Always Check The Backseat, Always Wear Your Seatbelt) — and that's apropos, as Zombieland is more road-trip yuk-fest than it is a horror yuck-fest. (Still, zombie zealots will be drooling over the wide array of wicked undead on display.) The first character we meet is Columbus, and it is through his eyes that we see the first signs of the zombie outbreak and its early aftermath. The fallout leads to a bleak and devastated country populated by the few survivors who're forced to become outlaws, living by the skin of their teeth and always on the move in search of sanctuary. Right from the beginning there is a good sense of the tone of the film — fun, irreverence and total lock-n-load rock 'n roll. Before long Columbus teams up with the brash and bold Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), a gonzo road-warrior whose only real goal is to scarf the last Twinkie on Earth. So as luck would have it, he finds everything but a Twinkie (there's a hilarious scene involving a mother-lode truckload of coconut Snowballs) as he and his younger protégé zoom through the highways, byways, trading posts and supermarkets.

Tallahassee is the fully liberated id to Columbus' over-cautious fraidy-cat, a cowboy road warrior who enjoys gratuitously stomping zombie arse. But both are hoodwinked when they run across two young sisters in apparent extremis, Wichita (Emma Stone) and 12-year-old Little Rock (Abigail Breslin), who are also in search of solace — not in the form of sponge cake, whipped cream and preservatives, but rather in the form of ferris wheels, funhouses and tilt-a-whirls. You see, Little Rock has always dreamed of going to a famed seaside amusement park in California, and her big sis will stop at nothing to make that wish come true. Which means Wichita will lie, cheat, steal and kill anyone who might stand their way. So, at gunpoint, the girls alleviate the boys of their SUV and weapons, though the four soon form a reluctant alliance, with Columbus crushing on Wichita and Tallahassee taking a fatherly shine to Little Rock. When Wichita suspects that Columbus and Tallahassee may be trouble, the high-jinks ensue as the never-ending barrage of zombies continue to complicate matters. Wary cohorts in the battle against the undead, all four begin to wonder if it might be better to simply take their chances alone, but they continue on in a road trip like no other. As they head westward from their Texas starting point -- chasing rumors of a zombie-free theme park outside L.A. -- not a lot happens, really, though Ruben Fleischer's direction is slick and busy. Eventually, they get to Hollywood, grab a map of stars' homes, and settle in at the luxurious manse of Tallahassee's hero, Bill Murray (playing himself, is worth the price of admission alone). If Zombieland doesn't grade at the head of its class -- the valedictorian still being "Shaun of the Dead" -- this lively splatstick item is nonetheless way above the remedial likes of "Zombie Strippers," to name one among many recent lower-budgeters. Benefiting from the very different but very appealing comedy styles of Woody Harrelson and Jesse Eisenberg even when the script's wit runs thin, this should be catnip to jaded genre fans. A definite must-see for diehard zombie fans. This gets a 4 on my "Go See" scale. 

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