“Zombie-,” is an undead antagonist which preys on the protagonists’ brains and the movie viewer’s subconscious desire to see every person that annoys him in a crowded area blown into red chunky bits.
“-Land,” is a suffix granted mostly to amusement parks; the implication being a self-contained pleasurable escape for the surrounding, non-land areas of the world. What one gets for the ticket price is a precise combination of these two meanings, and it’s because of this that the film does what it needs to do exceptionally well.
The plot follows a rag-tag group of zombie hunters led by Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), the axis of which is the obsessive Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg). The group’s continued survival – and the film’s overall progression – is based on the strict adherence to a set of rules like various forms of safety (seat belts) and personal maintenance (cardio). By orbiting around these ideas, the film gains a well executed layer of brash comedy. The blatant humor carries the film into even less subtle territory than “Evil Dead” or the original “Day of the Dead.”
Matching the blunt wit is even blunter violence, where Tallahassee and crew purposefully pit themselves against single, groups, or even hordes of the undead, and utilize both heavy fire-power and improvisational weaponry to dispatch the would-be brain-grazers of their not so mortal coil. If you are nerd culture-savvy, it’s “The Zombie Survival Guide” as a movie. If you are a gamer, it’s “Dead Rising.”
Rounding out the zombie hunters is sister duo of Witchita (the ever-awesome Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin). The latter is perfectly suited to the burgeoning actress’ somehow perfect comedic timing. The blossoming romance between Witchita and Columbus is standard and piddles out to a somewhat regular emotional arch, but the strength of both actors makes the well-walked path entertaining enough to be strung along again.
The performances that steal the show, of course, are the craved-from-granite ruggedness of Harrelson’s Tallahassee and the amiable awkwardness of Eisenberg’s Columbus. The two men quickly establish a buddy dynamic of opposing masculinities and talents, and though Eisenberg does impressively with what could have been an interchangeable role, Harrelson was made for the bloody-raw testosterone that is the archetypal “one-man-against-all” leader.
The plot progresses entirely as predicted, with the usual set pieces of the noble leader sacrifice and damsels in distress executed practically at the audience’s combined cue. Where the paint-by-numbers aesthetic is a death knell for any other genre, a film as proud of its cinematic heritage as “Zombieland” ends up reveling in it.
There is an immediate, direct line of communication opened between what the audience wants, and what the production delivers, and this blatant catering feels as grossly satisfying as the image implies. The stereotypical structure prevents the film from bringing anything new or even noticeably remodeled to the proceedings. But with the intention of simple, visceral entertainment the film aspires for, innovation is hardly missed.
On the design side of affairs, the obvious front-man is blood and gore effects, and “Zombieland” delivers both in anticipated excess. Creative deaths and the methods used to inflict the standard ones keep the “find a zombie and kill it” routine fresh enough to maintain interest. Costume design is basic but works well enough with zombie makeup to make an impression, and set design fluctuates enough from wide open death arenas to intimate one-on-one alley fights to keep one’s attention focused throughout the runtime. Like the plot and performances, nothing is out of place or poorly executed, but nothing exceeds beyond a high enough point to drastically set “Zombieland” apart. But, again, it’s a hard failure to notice when there is so much fun to be had.
You knew what “Zombieland” was before there was even a trailer. The combination of undead schadenfreude and a balls-out Harrelson is as giddily enjoyable as it appears on paper. Bonus points to Columbus for nailing that Eisenberg quirk and the needs-to-be-in-everything charm of Emma Stone. You’ve seen everything this film has to offer a million times before in a billion sporadic doses, but never in such a bluntly humorous and comfortably predictable way. Of course, you already knew all of this.
Filed Under: A & E