Friday, October 2, 2009

'Zombieland' is dead on funny bash

 By Steve Crum

Like vampires, zombies are very fashionable now. That does not mean either linkage to the horror genre is my particular cup of corpuscle. To be honest, I had to drag myself to Zombieland. And, horrors upon hilarity, I laughed throughout it. Chalk it up to the comedy's rapid pacing, graphics, makeup, actors, and clever writing. In other words, zombie-shuffle the kudos to director Ruben Fleischer and co-writers (and producers) Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick. For all three, Zombieland is their first significant film. They should definitely helm the inevitable sequel.

Set in either a parallel universe or merely a fictional present (it is never clarified), Zombieland first centers on 20-something Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), who also narrates the story. Immediately, we are introduced to a society in which zombies are the world majority, wandering streets, parking lots, and vacant stores. (Mad Cow Disease is the possible culprit.) Following a grossly violent opening showing zombies attacking and chomping upon innocent human by-walkers and drivers, it is clear Columbus is a survivor by no accident. He really knows his way around the walking dead. His outthinking the enemy takes the form of clever rules to live by, which are boldly flashed on the screen and explained by him at given, zombie peril, moments.

For example, one from Columbus’ book of how to avoid zombies is: “RULE #23, The Double Tap. Always Smash Your Zombie Twice.” As already mentioned, the graphics are a plus, particularly since the rules are displayed in animated fashion during the 20 or so zombie attacks. They are flashed on screen like it is the National Safety Test. It is reminiscent of the silly “BAM” and “CRUNCH” graphics flashed during fight scenes in the old Batman TV series.

Obviously, the rules work. Columbus soon teams with Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), a fellow human he meets en route to...well, we never really know their destination either. Since the entire world is zombie central, where could they be headed? It is Tallahassee who gives both himself and Columbus the city names, since he feels it best to remain mostly anonymous to each other. After picking up two more humans, immediately labeled Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin), the four venture to anywhere in pursuit of zombie-less trappings. All are loaded with rifles and ammo, which they repeatedly use on zombie after gurgling zombie.

The zombie shootings, hackings, bashings, and general clobberings are certainly violent, but surrealistically. Since zombies by nature are not human anymore, it seems justifiable, if not justifiable homicide, to eliminate them. They are certainly trying to kill and eat any and all humans. Really, knocking off a zombie in Zombieland is emotionally and morally akin to scoring points in a video game or shooting an air rifle to hit bad guys at an arcade.

So much for Zombieland’s plot. There just isn’t much to it, except to hang a half dozen hilariously grim set pieces upon a road movie. I can tell you the four do not get along with each other--at least throughout most of the film. What I cannot divulge is the hands down, funniest bit of the entire flick. All critics were ordered not to say who or what is involved. Just prepare yourself for a delightful surprise, and the film’s real centerpiece. By adhering to the film distributor’s demand not to say anything specific, this also creates an effective hook to get you into the theater. No harm done; you will not be disappointed.

What I can also say is that the four principals, particularly Harrelson and Eisenberg, obviously had a fun time during the filming. In turn, the audience has a great time. A running gag has Tallahassee searching the territory for Twinkies to satisfy his craving.

There must be zombie symbolism linked to this blatant product placement.
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On an A to F Grade Scale: B+
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