Cinematropolis Review: Woody and the gang bring the funny to ‘Zombieland’

18 Sep

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Zombieland (2009) R 85 min, Directed by: Reuben Fleischer  Written by: Rhett Reese & Paul Wernick Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone, Abigail Breslin

cinemagrade b+

Let’s get one thing out of the way up-front: the zombies are starting to lose their luster.

Whether lurching, creeping, shambling, or sprinting, the living dead have more than worn out their welcome. Resuscitated by 28 Days Later, sustained by the Dawn remake and catapulted to stardom by Shaun, the genre has crawled from its grave and now runs amok eating the brains of indiscriminate horror fans everywhere. Fortunately, Ruben Fleischer’s Zombieland is about to come along and joyfully hammer the last nail into this cinematic coffin.

Following the exploits of four zomb-pocalypse survivors–Tallahassee, Wichita, Columbus, and Little Rock– Fleischer’s film is everything its titular rotting menace is not: fast on its feet, quick witted and in possession of a vibrant, beating heart. In short, taking a trip to Zombieland flippin’ rocks!

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There isn’t much in the way of a complex storyline; aside from Eisenberg’s Columbus suggesting a tainted burger signed the world’s death warrant, we don’t know why any of this happened. The film picks up with the cowardly, neurotic Columbus making his way back home amidst burned out highways and abandoned cars and running into the Escalade driving, crazier-than-Hades Tallahassee(Harrelson) who gets a serious jonze from disabling, disembowling and destroying the living dead. Setting out together, the duo is duped by a pair of street-smart sisters–Emma Stone’s Wichita and Abigail Breslin’s Little Rock– who have their own destination in mind. A few uncomfortable car rides and therapeutic store smashings later and the four lost souls are on the road to becoming a makeshift family unit.

Forget the plot though, it’s only there to do two things: bring together a group of  funny, interesting characters that we actually care about and pave the way for elaborate comic gags and brutal zombie death scenes. On that count, Zombieland succeeds with flying discolorations. I can’t remember the last time I laughed so hard in a theater. From the sound of the audience at The Charles tonight, I wasn’t alone in my amusement.

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From Mad Magazine-esque snapshots of the world falling apart to Harrelson’s consumer scorn leveled at a road-side tourist trap, the film remembers its own coveted rules to survival; take time to enjoy the little things. Every clever detail of Zombieland–Harrelson’s preoccupying quest with finding the last edible Twinkie on Earth or the way in which the rules helpfully pop-up in the corner of the screen whenever the survivors need clues –amounts to little things. When they are arranged in surprising and unique ways as they are here, those little things add up into one very big entertainment.

There’s little more I can tell you about the film that you shouldn’t just discover for yourself when it opens on Oct 2nd. The acting is all around terrific and while Eisenberg, Stone and Breslin create a convincing familial unit, it’s Harrelson who steals the show and provides the bonding glue for the bunch. I’ve never fully warmed to Woody in other roles, but he’s giving the best turn of his career in Zombieland.  Tallahassee is a bit rough around the edges and none too bright and yet Harrelson really humanizes him and revels in his absurdities. He even manages to bring emotional integrity to a man’s quest for a Hostess product. Honestly, not even Meryl Streep could pull that off. 

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When the motley little crew reaches the amusement park, the film moves from over-the-top to out-of-the-stratosphere. This is one of the few pictures I’ve seen where the rollercoaster scenes in the movie might be more entertaining than actually riding the real thing. In truth, the entire movie plays like one big carnival ride; it deceives us with its simplicity and then delivers a lethal kick to the funny bone. This is definitely the way the genre should be laid to rest–with Woody Harrelson machine-gunning zombies from his seat on the tilt-a-whirl. Really, would you want it any other way?

Note: There is a 15 minute guest cameo in Zombieland that I wouldn’t even dream of spoiling. Showing up at the film’s midway point, the entire thing is so funny I nearly choked on my own laughter. Seriously, it’s worth the full price of a ticket for that sequence alone. Trust me.

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5 Responses to “Cinematropolis Review: Woody and the gang bring the funny to ‘Zombieland’”

  1. hagiblog September 18, 2009 at 9:09 am #

    Cannot wait to see this one! I’ll be making sure to catch it as early in it’s release as possible and your review makes it sound that much better.

  2. Xiphos September 18, 2009 at 12:29 pm #

    I’m looking forward to this one except for that Eisenberg kid he annoys the hell out of me. Nice review. Oh and Emma the order of protection lapsed, call me.

  3. goregirl September 18, 2009 at 12:48 pm #

    Really looking forward to this one! Sounds like tons o’ fun! How can I resist a film with the tagline “Nut up or shut up?” The zombie makeup looks great, and I must admit to having a wee crush on Woody.

  4. Xiphos October 14, 2009 at 11:26 am #

    I just watched a download of this movie. I was fairly let down by it unfortunantly. My dislike for that eisenberg kid didn’t help and the cameo did nothing for me.

  5. daniel October 19, 2009 at 11:39 am #

    this movie is great.i have just seen it.so coooooooooooooool.

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