Part monster movie, part buddy road comedy with a dash of romance thrown in, Zombieland manages to deliver on pretty much every level. Featuring terrific performances by the entire cast, including Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin, this film is able to deliver genuine laughs, genuine scares and genuine entertainment for its entire running time. Its a solid piece of filmmaking by director Ruben Fleischer, and writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, that should definitely find an audience.
The premise of the film is, as it should be, relatively simple. The world as we know it has come to an end due to some unspecified reason and the dead are now walking the earth. In this world we first meet Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) who, being the introverted, Mountain Dew drinking, pseudo-loser he is, has managed to stay alive due to his nature and adherence to rules he’s come up with as a new citizen of Zombieland. His rules, such as “Cardio Good, Bathrooms Bad, Always shoot zombies twice, etc.” and his loner, anti-social nature have served him well and enabled him to survive.
So, its somewhat against his better judgment that he decides to team up with Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson) on a road trip to find out if any of his family might still be alive in, you guessed it, Columbus. In case you’re wondering, the names characters call each other in Z-land are where they’re from and not their actual names. Better to not develop real ties with anyone seeing as how they might be eaten by zombies at any moment. This provides a bit of insight into the characters and also a bit of humor as well.
Along the way the two loners end up encountering two sisters, Wichita and Little Rock (Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin) on a quest to California to make the most of post-zombie life in an abandoned amusement park. The girls are all each other has in the world and so will do anything to protect that, and each other. These two ladies turn out to be quite a different pair than they first appear and give our two loner heroes a run for their money.
If I had any real problem with the film its that for all its charm, all its fun and all its cool zombie killing action, there’s not much going on below the surface. The film is all action, comedy, inventive ways of killing zombies and characters that effortlessly compliment each other, and conflict with each other, very well. We do get glimpses into each character’s history and motivations but they really don’t get a chance to develop much here. Instead, the film’s fast pace, recurring jokes such as Columbus’ rules, zombie killing action and genuine humor move the film along at a pace that almost makes you forget that while you are getting a pretty great and funny movie about life in Zombieland, that’s pretty much all you are getting.
That’s not to say a film has to have any deeper meaning and can’t just be entertaining. Not at all. In fact, many times I would be thrilled to just get entertaining. Fortunately, Zombieland delivers that in spades. Its a consistently clever comedy where the characters relationships and motivations are simple: Tallahassee is the charismatic anti-hero who just wants a Twinkie, Columbus is the loner reluctant hero who wants to survive and find his family, Wichita and Little Rock will stop at nothing to protect each other and just want to have some fun in a zombie-free amusement park. These are simple, relateable characters, motivations and relationships that help the audience easily understand what’s going on but don’t give much more.
With all this, there is, of course, still fun to be had by all the characters on the way West — and fun they have. Anyone can crown themselves with the title “Zombie Kill of the Week” which leads to several moments of clever, fun, zombie killing action. The characters can vent a bit and take out their frustrations by smashing up a kitschy roadside store. Plus, the ladies are able to find several ways of making our heroes look foolish, which adds a fun bit of humor and serves to increase the sexual tension between Columbus and Wichita. And finally, a surprise cameo, which I definitely won’t spoil here, can lead to some revelations and a different kind of irreverent fun which is not only motivated by character, but provides some hilarious closure on one front in particular.
At the end of Zombieland you feel entertained and know you had a great time, but the film doesn’t really stick with you. Its entertainment while you’re in the theater, but it doesn’t provide any lasting impression other than you know you’ve had a great time, but a few days later, you are less and less clear as to exactly why. Zombieland is like a great meal in a fantastic restaurant that while you’re having it, its thoroughly enjoyable. But once you’re done and on to other things, you start to forget that last great meal and sooner or later you’re hungry again.
But all that really doesn’t matter in the end because Zombieland is just so much fun. You’re with the movie and the characters from the first moments all the way to the end. You instantly like them, root for them and when the end does finally come, you’re a bit sad to see them go. Inevitably, you will be hungry again. But while you’re enjoying Zombieland, and for some time afterward, you will feel very satisfied indeed.