Spills But Less Thrills


02 October 2009| No Comments on Zombieland     by Sean Chavel


With a hard-edged zombie comedy with a heavy metal attitude, you expect and want a Quentin Tarantino or Eli Roth kind of bloodbath.  Zombieland sporadically has a gleeful sick energy and certainly contains some clever bloody kills with its arsenal. It is also proud enough to not throw the action inside a shopping mall (it has become a zombie movie cliché), and shrewdly has cast Woody Harrelson as a half-redneck, half-chummy man of the land paired with Jesse Eisenberg’s nerd survivor who is like Woody Allen in a teen body. They are proof that the buddy movie can still work if you cast two severe opposites and fasten them together. What “Zombieland” has is enough ingredients to satisfy zombie-movie lover’s appetites, what it doesn’t do is run them to the limit.

If you’re going to make a movie called “Zombieland” there should be a lot more zombies. The movie also introduces an early mouth-watering gimmick: a set of rules and guidelines that pop up on the screen in overripe typography. Eisenberg, as Columbus, tells us number one rule to surviving is cardio – which isn’t startlingly fresh. But when he explains the “double-tap” it becomes the movie’s repetitious but delicious go-to modus operandi. Harrelson (his“Natural Born Killers” and “Kingpin” performances both ring a bell), as Tallahassee, doesn’t give a damn about rules, he just goes freestyle with a hatchet or gardening sheers or sawed-off shotgun and mindlessly blows the living dead away.

Still, it’s a pleasure to hear Eisenberg’s nerd rhetoric (his mannerisms recall his own in “The Squid and the Whale”). More than 37 rules? You can’t wait to get to all of them, but don’t hold your breath. Just when it has grabbed onto your funny bone the movie abandons the rules gimmick until picking it up again much, much later. Actually, the movie abandons a lot of the early good stuff and leaves us hanging and panting for it to come back. It becomes a reluctant make-room, we can make-a-family-between-us kind of movie when the two guys connect with a couple of naughty, prankster girls played by Emma Stone (“Superbad”) and Abigail Breslin (“Little Miss Sunshine”). As genre formula dictates, trust issues must be smoothed out as part of the bonding process.

In this un-America that has since become nicknamed “Zombieland,” the four of them travel west to California where the girls dream of hitting Pacific Playland, an amusement park. It’s the girls’ lofty desire to be like kids again for a day. Yet it’s really a numbskull move. To turn on the park lights is like sound-alarming the zombies to come to a feeding – these girls are really no smarter than the kids that hang out at Camp Crystal Lake. Tallahassee has a much more practical pet dream: the quest to find and eat some Twinkies, which becomes a righteous movie-long running gag.

It is really a pit-stop in a Beverly Hills celebrity home where the movie gets some vulgar-meets-sophisticated laughs – surprise cameo alert! Without a doubt, the movie must lead up to either a mansion siege or a playland shoot ’em up, but it’s not hard to guess which avenue the movie will take considering the foreshadowing. Despite being annoyingly contrived, the climactic action kinetics are nearly as outrageously over-the-top as something like “Desperado,” with Tallahassee riding rollercoasters while popping caps in what is a raucous extermination derby.

The film is directed by a relative unknown named Ruben Fleischer who, if anything, gets the pillaged-city look down pat – he could have been a candidate to direct a bloody action exploitation version of Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road.”  He also demonstrates a master showman’s use of slow-motion.

But according to the press notes the only zombie movie Fleischer had ever seen, prior to reading the “Zombieland” script, was “28 Days Later.” As soon as he was hired as director, he watched a great deal of other zombie movies so he would be prepared to give his audience what they’d expect from the genre. Even so, there are not ’nuff zombies.  And while the movie has a rockin’ beginning, and a rollicking nut-up ending, it has some serious middle act problems. Not the thrill-comedy classic it could have been, instead just eh-okay.

88 Minutes. Rated R.


Film Cousins: “The Omega Man” (1971); “Dawn of the Dead” (1978); “Desperado” (1995); “Shaun of the Dead” (2004).

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Sean Chavel

About The Author / Sean Chavel

Sean Chavel is a Hollywood based author and movie reviewer. He is the Executive Director of flickminute.com, a new website that has adapted the movie review site genre by introducing moodbased and movie experience based reviews.


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