Saturday, October 3, 2009

Review: Zombieland

Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Elle Stone, and Abigal Breslin
Directed by Ruben Flischer

Why do we have so much fun with Zombie movies? Cinema, comics, and video games really do have a weird moral decision base for it's audience. We root for the bad guys, don't care about the good guys, and sometimes want death and destruction we normally would never want to wish upon another human being. If a zombie apocalypse happened, it would be the most devastating experience for everyone who lives or tries to live; your forced to kill family, friends, and complete strangers simply for survival. It would be an event comparable to the Black Plague and I drought we're gonna have George A. Romero movie called Night of the Almost Dead Living. This is a question that ponders the mind after experiencing the latest addition to the zombie genre Zombieland.


The film tells the story of four people known to each other only by their home towns but the story is told in voice-over by Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), a nerdy survivor who has 31 rules on how to survive a zombie invasion. While traveling to get back home, he meets Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), a hot-tempered cowboy with a cadillac, love of killing zombies and twinkles. They decide to team up temporarily to take Columbus to a certain point when they come across a pair of sisters Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin). After a string of events and mistrusts, the four decide to travel to an amusement park in California so Little Rock can enjoy it one last time.

Before the film came out, the marketing of the film through it's trailer became intriguing. It depicts our hero teaming up with Harrelson to kill of zombies in a car marked with a three on it's side. Viewing the trailer one would assume that the film is about a competition where the lone humans are out on the world to kill as many zombies as possible; almost a voluntary Running man or Madworld with zombies. Also, there seem to be all sorts of aspects of playing a real life video game in the film: we're given rules from Columbus as though we're being prompted on how to play the game and Columbus himself is a gamer playing World of Warcraft and having a modest game collection in his room. However, the film seems to shift it's focus from the zombies themselves to a sort of romantic comedy between Columbus and Wichita.

This is the first problem with Zombieland; it has elements of a fun zombie kill-fest but that just seems to get thrown to the side to have a pretty bland love story. There really isn't a lot to bring to merit with the love story and doesn't seem complicated at all. It's actually an annoying hollywood cliche that they have to throw in a love story into a zombie movie, war movie, thriller, action and ironically sometimes in romantic movies. Why not just stick to the kill-fest or have some more development of who these characters are? As it stands they just come across as one dimensional.

Another problem with the film is how there just doesn't seem to be enough conflict to go around. Most of the zombies are pretty easy for these characters to handle and there just isn't a lot of the undead to go around in the world. There is an uneasy alliance between the four characters; the reason they dont give their real names is because they don't want to get too attached to one another. Most of the movie, however, is about these four characters essentially bonding and having fun in this world. Alliance doesn't seem to be that big a problem; they sit around talking about pop-culture and twinkles.

In terms of the acting, the four leads just aren't given anything to do. Jesse Eisenberg, who was terrific in Adventureland (no relation to Zombieland) and The Squid and the Whale is reduced to playing dumbed down Folgell from Superbad; he's just an awkward, nerdy guy trying to get laid in the movie, nothing else. Harrelson doesn't fair better either and is just reduced to a comic relief clown of ht group. Emma Stone or Abigail Breslin of Superbad and Little Miss Sunshine respectably are left as the motherly, eye rollers who outwit the men at every turn and predictably need to be saved like the damsels in distress they are. These are all certainly capable actors that just don't have anything to chew on, which is ironic in a zombie movie.

On the bright side, the film does have one or two high moments. There is one place in which our four members find themselves in which creates a pretty creative cameo which I wont give away in this review. If you are interested in this movie, DONT go to IMDB, DONT read spoiler reviews, and DONT ask your friends about it. The appearance is so crazy, inventive, and hilarious that it saves the movie from being so bland.

It also does seem to have this geek-friendly quality and atmosphere to it. Throughout the film, I couldn't help thinking of the famous Max Brooks book The Zombie Survival Guide. The film seems to come from these fun conversations of "What would you do in a zombie apocalypse?" which would benefit the film had it spent more time with this. It's refreshing to see that all his video games and nerdiness seem to win the day for our heros instead of just condemning him as a social pollutant like Grandma's Boy or Fanboys does.


The excellent cameo and geek love aside, everything just seems so by-the-numbers for a mainstream film that I found myself asking too often this question: Who cares? The characters are one dimensional, the situations aren't funny, it has themes and ideas other films have handled more competently and it just gives no impression whatsoever. It's a victim of not being able live up to it's trailer or the really impressive slow motion opening sequence. At the end, I'm still not sure why we have so much fun with Zombie movies, maybe I just need to watch Planet Terror again while I inevitably forget Zombieland in six months.

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