Monday, October 5, 2009
It's a dead world after all...
Film Review - ZOMBIELAND (2009)
Screenplay by Rhett Reese & Paul Wernick
Directed by Ruben Fleischer
"If it bends, it's funny. If it breaks, it's not funny." - Lester (Alan Alda), Crimes and Misdemeanors
Time to add another clause to that comedy aphorism - If it bleeds, drips ichor or breaks the skin with a protruding bone, it's freakin' hysterical. Zombieland further illustrates that the Walking Dead are the inheritors of cinema's great slapstick tradition. They take a licking and keep on kicking, save for the well-placed bullet to the brain or an improvised decapitation with garden shears. And they're the perfect stress relievers. Wait until the day the world becomes an abattoir, and then bust heads and shoot holes with impunity. It's fun. And very, very funny.
The Center has not held thanks to a bite of a Mad Cow-tainted burger (eerily reminiscent of a story in this weekend's New York Times), and in no time at all, rampaging hordes of the infected - not Zombies in the literal sense, but let's not quibble - have wiped civilization off the face of the planet. And don't look to the government for help; we open on the presidential limousine upside-down in front of the Capitol dome, a Dick Cheney lookalike threatening to chew the face off the camera operator. In Zombieland, kiddo, we're all on our own.
If you're a loner or social misfit, this new world disorder might be just the ticket. That's the case with Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), a twenty-something pasty-face who would spend weeks in his apartment without venturing out, and treated humans as zombies before they actually turned into them. Columbus - characters are named for the cities they're from; less emotional attachment that way - is our narrator and tour guide. Through a series of rules that he's devised, we learn survival techniques. (Folks, Rule #1 is gonna leave me dead in the water.) To hammer them home, they appear onscreen in a long-overdue send-up of those 3-D "hanging in space" titles that became all the rage after Panic Room and Fringe.
Zombieland also suits Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson) just fine as well. He's a knife-wielding, pistol-packing alpha male who makes his entrance boots first, his dramatic pronouncements punctuated with the sound of a tolling church bell. He hates zombies, he's damn good at killing them, and thinks nothing of letting the bodies pile up if it'll get him a Twinkie.
This combo of brains and brawn head off for a mythical zombie-free place (is it East? is it West?), when they happen upon Wichita and Little Rock (Emma Stone & Abigail Breslin), grifter sisters who used their mastery of the con to get by in a pre-zombie world. Eventually this quartet sets off for Los Angeles, a stay at a sumptuous Beverly Hills mansion (if you don't know whose house it is, far be it from me to spoil the surprise here), and a climax at an amusement park that demonstrates the folly in firing up the lights of the midway - that is, unless it's your intention to attract zombies...
The short-hand review of Zombieland is this; it's the American Shaun of the Dead, and that is high praise indeed. Whereas that movie explored the comedy to be found in a stiff-upper-lip UK facing undead doomsday, Zombieland is as big and brassy as its budget will allow. Both films have a lovable schlub at their center for whom post-zombie existence casts a light on their previous life's shortcomings. After opening his apartment door to the sexy neighbor in #406, events for Columbus turn quickly from Rom to Zom: "The first girl I let into my life and she tries to eat me." And both movies deal with the importance of familial and friendship ties. In a make-it-up-on-the-spur world, it's best to travel light...especially when it comes to others.
Zombieland plays like it was a gas to sit down at the keyboard and create, and even more fun to see that vision actualised. It doesn't take a tremendous leap to imagine Eisenberg and Harrelson both playing...well, themselves. Eisenberg finds a variety of colors within his dweebish persona; I love his self-satisfied smile as he rides in the front seat of a Hummer with the other three, the only contented one, simply because he's sitting next to a pretty girl. And Harrelson inhales his part like oxygen. C'mon, you doubt that Woody would be able to survive a zombie plague? And look good while doing it? He hasn't tackled a headlining role in a major movie in many a year - it would be wonderful to see the walking dead resurrect his film career.
And it will be great to welcome a sequel in Zombieland (already in the works). At a brisk 80 minutes, it's one of the few films I've seen this year that could have been a good reel longer - I'm hoping for a DVD release overflowing with extras. And maybe an accompanying manual, with those survival rules on paper. See, I always knew there was a good reason for staying out of public restrooms...