Sunday, October 25, 2009

“Time to nut up or shut up!”

Bucking the usual trend of, well, pretty much every review here at Castle RWMC, Zombieland is only a few weeks old, not on video yet, and almost certainly still playing at a theater near you. Why this aberration from the norm, you may be fearfully asking yourself? Because I like unsettling you. Because I wanted to throw a zombie movie onto the pile. Because I wanted to keep up with this month’s theme of creepy carnivals. All right, it’s a theme park in this one, but a theme park’s a carnival that’s just put down permanent roots.

In a post-outbreak America Zombieland (dun, dun, DUN!), most of the residents are the slavering, infected and flesh hungry undead. A lone survivor, a paranoiac nerd who’s got a meticulous list of rules for surviving the undead hordes meets up with a jaded and very violent badass who’s turned zombie killing into an art and they travel cross country, looking for anywhere that isn’t a zombie infested hell hole. They run into a pair of non-zombie sisters with their own agenda and after a few twists and betrayals, end up traveling to LA, ostensibly looking for that zombie-free promised land. Hilarity ensues for 80 minutes.

Columbus: Jesse Eisenberg is one of those actors who always seems to be playing awkward nerdy types (like Michael Cera) but here, it works. He’s our narrator and POV character, and neurotic beyond imagination. Then again, his neurotic tendency to make a genre savvy list of survival tips makes a lot of sense and helps explain how a social reject is able to survive a zombie apocalypse. The plan, such as it is for him, is to get from Dallas back to Columbus, Ohio to see if his family survived.

Tallahassee: Never really figured any of the cast members of Cheers to be badasses, but that’s what Woody Harrelson is in this movie. He’s a surly, foul-mouthed survivor who’s turned zombie killing into both a hobby and high art. The downright maniacal glee with which he pursues both zombies and an ever elusive desire to have a Twinkie before they eventually expire is absurd, sociopathic, and even heroic. He is the unquestioned badass of the film.

Wichita: Emma Stone plays the older of two sisters who end up traveling together in Zombieland (Dun Dun Dun!). Survivors with trust issues toward anyone that isn’t them, Wichita is also the same age as Columbus, and yeah, the boy falls for a girl that is both pretty and pretty good with a shotgun.

Little Rock: Abigail Breslin is the younger sister, about twelve, and just as sharp and devious as her sister. Still, she’s still a kid and hasn’t really had much of an opportunity to have legitimate fun, and that is pretty much how we get to the showdown in the amusement park.

Director Ruben Fleischer delivers a bright, colorful, almost festive atmosphere to the action that juxtaposes nicely with the non-action road trip bits where our plucky survivors are just driving and driving through empty stretches of road interrupted by scenes of automotive ruin. The makeup on the zombies is appropriately disgusting and CGI mostly obvious when they flash Columbus’ rules on the screen during appropriate moments, but then the CGI also has a “weight” to it in the scenes that get played for laughs. Better explanation: Rule No. 1 is “Cardio” because running is important to surviving the zombie apocalypse. As Columbus is running around a parking lot chased by two zombies, “Cardio” flashes on the screen in the background and one of the zombies charges through the letters, knocking one over. Stuff like that.

Of special note are the beginning and end. We only get glimpses of the zombie apocalypse itself, and after a brief narration of the current status quo, and then we go into the opening credits, which feature slow motion sight gags of normal people running in terror from zombies during all kinds of situations. Its good times and really sets the scene.

Then there’s the climactic showdown in the theme park. Bright, colorful, and absolutely hilarious when you see Tallahassee jump into a roller coaster and take potshots at zombies, laughing as he goes. Why does he do this? Its funny, so does it matter?

The script by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick is both incredibly genre savvy and wickedly funny. The movie blends the elements of zombies, buddy movie, road trip, occasional love story elements and rolls them all up into an effective comedy where you end up caring for all of the main characters. There’s also a cameo at the end of the second act that is simply too awesome for me to spoil here for those who haven’t seen it.

Sure, I suppose I could point out stuff like “where do they keep finding ammunition and gasoline” and other plot hole kind of elements, but really, this movie first and foremost bows before the rule of funny. They keep finding ammunition because that way they can continue to kill zombies in amusing ways.

The original music by David Sardy is, well, it gets overshadowed by the killer licensed soundtrack that starts with “For Whom The Bell Tolls” by Metallica blasting over the opening credits and just keeps going with amusing musical choices like Van Halen, Chuck Mangione, the Ghostbusters Theme, Hank Williams and the Black Keys. Its good stuff.

Zombieland is a hell of a lot of fun, and it shows in the work of the folks involved. It’s light in tone, but also tells a pretty solid narrative and things get wrapped up nicely. Its open ended enough for a sequel, but I’m not entirely sure that would be for the best. I saw it in theaters twice on opening weekend, so that’s a pretty clear recommendation to go see it.

Now, I know what you might be thinking. You might be thinking “but what about Shaun of the Dead?” After some introspection, I’ve decided that its not worth trying to split hairs over which might be the better zom com (Shaun is probably a little more tightly plotted). Instead, I would prefer to sit back and enjoy a world that has been able to create two solid zombie comedies in this decade.

No comments: