There are many theories about the End of the World. When it will happen, how it will happen, who will survive and what drastic measures they will be forced to take to stay alive. And for every theory, there’s been at least one movie. To the tune of several dozen already released and just as many yet to come.
And as it happens when the movies on a theme approaches triple digit time and ‘blockbuster’ box office, someone has to turn on the mocking. This time, the someone is the triple team of Fleischer, Reese and Wernick and the saga of Zombieland.
Z-land takes on both the End of the World and the recently rekindled undead craze to tell the tale of a country (and conceivably world) brought to ruin by a freak viral form of Mad Cow Disease that turns the infected into flesh eating zombies.
Our tale is told by one Columbus (Eisenberg) a shy, neurotic loner with almost no social skills, even less friends and a bad case of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (a detail thankfully forgotten as Columbus metamorphises into a more confident young man).
Columbus begins with a very brief recap of the state of the world and his rules for survival. Rules which include: Cardio is key for outrunning zombies, check the bathroom before you go, wear your seatbelt and never assume the first bullet killed the bad guy. Columbus, who is more or less a complete agoraphobic, spends all his time on his computer until the day the hot chick across the hall comes knocking for his help. The next day, as a show of gratitude, the newly infected hottie tries to eat him. And that’s not a euphemism. Columbus takes to the road where he meets up with Tallahasse (by the by, all characters are known only by their hometown). Tallahasse (Harrelson) is the loner anti-hero who, as happens in all these movies, takes young Columbus under his wing and the two become traveling companions. Their relationship is the stuff that would make Felix and Oscar proud.
Eventually they run into Wichita and Little Rock, two young women posing as sisters who con the gents out of their truck and their guns. They later re-meet on the road and form an odd and dysfunctional foursome. Wichita (who happens to be the same age as Columbus and quite the cutie, shocking) has told the younger Little Rock a bedtime story of the Zombie free “Pacific Playland” and they are on a quest to reach this mecca.
While the plot is rather predictable (they reach the park only to be attacked by zombies, survive and ride off into the sunset as a completely dysfunctional family), the movie is actually a lot of fun. The dialogue is quirky and zippy in a Buffy the Vampire Slayer era way. The characters are just unique enough not to be cardboard despite being parodies of the standard apocalypse, road trip and monster flick styles. Columbus’ list of rules are a fun touch with giant letters popping up to show which rule is being illustrated (but not so many times that it could become the next drinking game). And the cast is very well fit into their roles. Harrelson brings a sweet redneck charm to Tallahasse. Eisenberg is just nerdy enough to be believed as a total neurotic without being annoying. Stone is just cute enough to be seen as a hottie in Columbus’ eyes without being so hot that the pair doesn’t seem plausible. And Breslin, well little Olive Hoover is all grown up and kicking some zombie butt.
If I had to name one real flaw in the movie it would be the death of Bill Murray. The gag of Tallahasse calling Murray the greatest guy in the world was a laugh. Little Rock being young enough to have no clue who Murray is, sparking a viewing of Ghostbusters in Murray’s home theater as well as a live replay of a ghost trapping, was an even bigger one. But it all falls apart when a bad prank causes Columbus to kill a very much human Murray who was posing as a zombie. Especially when Tallahasse knew Murray was pranking the skitish young man. Murray killed as a straight up zombie would have not left a bad taste in one’s mouth.
Still, even with that one fail, the movie is a fun fest of snark and self aware ripping on the genres while playing into them the like of which really hasn’t been seen since the days of Scream. Another not an Oscar contender but well worth the price of admission. Although you might want to skip the hot dog and the Red Vines.