By Lacey Colby
Welcome to Zombieland, where nearly all of humanity has been reduced by infection into unintelligent flesh-eaters and everything you’ve ever known — home, family and friends — has changed. And in some ways, this may not be such a bad thing.
Jesse Eisenberg (Adventureland) stars in this romantic zombie comedy as a socially awkward loner trying to make it through the zombie apocalypse without being eaten alive. Of course, it isn’t much of a change for a guy with so many phobias that he locked himself in his dorm before zombies ever existed. He carefully follows his set of survival rules, including cardio fitness — because fat people can’t outrun zombies — and the doubletap, the practice of discharging a weapon twice for insurance.
On his way home to Columbus, Ohio, to find his parents, he meets a man (Woody Harrelson, 2012) with only two missions in life: kill zombies and find a Twinkie. The unlikely companions decide to stick together but go by the names of their hometowns, Columbus and Tallahassee, to avoid attachment. In their travels, they meet two sisters, Wichita (Emma Stone, The House Bunny) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin, My Sister’s Keeper), who con them out of their Escalade and weapons. But despite the rocky start, the four, maybe the only people unaffected by the mutation of Mad Cow Disease, discover that they just might be able to find a little bit of fun together.
Zombieland, like zombie comedy Shaun of the Dead, is character-driven, despite having more action than the earlier film. In the midst of the humor, the characters are clinging to their losses and hopes and even childish desires, like going to an amusement park. Rather than allowing the situation to tear apart the characters, the film shows a way that it can hold them together.
It is unclear, though, whether the anonymity from the use of locations as names is intended to create a first-person connection with or a distance from the characters. Presumably, the filmmakers intended the latter, but Columbus even refers to his neighbor as “406” (her room number) and to his made-up romantic tryst with a girl named “Beverly Hills,” undermining the cleverness of the motif.
Eisenberg’s performance is not entirely original, as it is reminiscent of his Michael Cera-esque character from Adventureland, but the awkward rambling and mumbled words work just as well for Zombieland. His comedic timing is impeccable, and he’s believable as a pathetic guy with irritable bowel syndrome who has wanted nothing more all his life than to tuck hair behind a girl’s ear. He also has decent chemistry with Stone, who makes her tough and self-sufficient character into a believable love interest.
Without Harrelson, though, this film could have been a complete flop. He creates a character that seems simple and impulsive but has been most affected by the infection. A character that could be incredibly annoying ends up being quite charismatic with Harrelson wearing the tacky snakeskin jacket. The banter between Harrelson and other characters carries the film through some of its less eventful scenes, and the viewer can’t help but enjoy all of his zombie kills.
The film makes numerous pop culture references that include Facebook, Hannah Montana and a surprise cameo that produces one of the greatest scenes of the movie.
The references get a little heavy-handed at times, especially when the cast consists of actors — Eisenberg and Stone — already known for films full of them, but the playfulness of these references fits Tallahassee’s philosophy of enjoying “the little things.”
Zombieland has a great visual style despite being a comedy. The zombies look repulsive, and there is plenty of blood for people who like their horror films gory. It can be a bit like a video game with the rules and instructions for survival appearing as part of the scenery whenever relevant, but this is part of the appeal.
A great mix of comedy, drama, horror and romance, Zombieland is by no means an award winner, but it is undoubtedly a crowd pleaser.