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Reeling: “Zombieland”

October 8, 2009


Zombieland is a really nice way to end summer. I mean, I know summer has technically been over for a while now, but despite blustery winds and my skin colour going all translucent, I’ve been in denial — TIFF rolled through town but I’ve been stuck in Star Trek mode. Zombieland‘s mix of shiny surface coolness and subtle craftsmanship (it clocks in at a clean, fat-free 80 minutes), however, is like the perfect segue between seasonal tastes. Rookie director Ruben Fleischer processes the tics and metabolisms of a lot of contemporary cinema, from Zack Snyder’s slo-mo body clashes to Wes Anderson’s caricatures in pain, including the cues and pacing of video games and the bittersweet loser snark of Judd Apatow, and applies it all to the trendy fanboy zombie genre. And if all of that sounds horrible, you’re right, Zombieland should be hack city, but it’s not.

Jesse Eisenberg’s Columbus introduces us to the world of Zombieland by doing two things; laying out the rules of surviving zombie attacks (like a gamer instruction manual!), and telling us he’s been highly adaptable because he’s a loner who thought people were zombies even before the apocalypse (like an indie coming of age tale! OK I promise to stop using this hammer). During all this, Fleischer is showing us people running and dying in operatic fashion, but the motion effects serve the comedy instead of any sort of pathos.

zombieland-posterFleischer is clearly adept at exploding your brain and melting your eyes, but unlike others in this league, he also knows how to work with actors and when to put the dolly on park and let the characters be characters. Some of the best moments of the film are during quiet car rides, or during the middle part where Columbus and his new, slightly psychotic family of survivors (Woody Harrelson, Superbad‘s Emma Stone and that girl from Little Miss Sunshine) squat in an L.A. mansion and get their John Hughes on. This is also where the Ultimate Cameo happens, and if you haven’t spoiled that for yourself yet, I won’t, and please don’t. The movie doesn’t hinge on this surprise, but it’s a delicious one that you should let yourself enjoy.

Surrounding this guest appearance you get to witness Stone’s genuine comedic timing and Harrelson at his boisterous best, and Eisenburg gets to be charming and personable in way he never got to be in Adventureland because that film was too busy trying to resonate. Zombieland owes a lot to Shaun of the Dead (Fleischer hasn’t hidden the 2004 UK zombie comedy was his inspiration), but it surpasses even that great flick by not getting caught up in the wonkiness of its own premise. The character bits, if not entirely genuine, are entertaining and effective.

Zombieland trips up its final act however by sacrificing its own admirable sense of character logic. Sure, the film needs to create a damsel-in-distress scenario to complete Columbus’ story, but it’s regretful how stupidly this is accomplished. In that, Zombieland unfortunately stays true to the roots of its dumb blockbuster side of the family, but thankfully Stone rescues (or at least keeps afloat) the final moments by not dumbing down her performance, even if the script tries its hardest to do it for her. The final zombie killing spree is nonetheless raucous, and Zombieland ends how Eisenburg’s similar Adventurland probably should have but didn’t — in its theme park setting and with its bearings in tact, you smirking along with the young’ins instead of lamenting them.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. jessekg permalink*
    October 8, 2009 4:54 pm

    you know what’s funny? I just watched adventureland last week but can’t even remember the ending. I do remember groaning though, then saying, ‘oh well, the rest of it was good’.
    Good review though. Maybe worth the ticket (or price of a DVD rental later).

  2. Simon permalink*
    October 8, 2009 11:27 pm

    Having seen both movies, I would definitely pick zombies over Kristen Stewart any day of the week. And as far as zombie flicks go, even for a movie not particularly about the actual zombies, this movie had one of the most amusing opening sequences I’ve seen in the genre. Good times.

    For the record, I’m totally prepared for the zombie apocalypse. It’s kind of my pet project.

  3. Dust permalink
    October 9, 2009 9:39 am

    That’s it. That’s the last straw.

    I’m going to go watch that movie tonight.


  4. Chris permalink
    October 16, 2009 12:12 am

    ’twas really the perfect summer movie; i love the uplifting-zombie kill fun and the wild cameo by ________. then some feel good family themed stuff in the end. remember the motorcycle scene? ha!

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