Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Zombieland (USA, 2009)

Considering how much attention this flick has garnered, and its popular success, it seems almost a waste of time to write yet another on-line review of what is probably the most successful zombie comedy made to date, but seeing that wasted time is an integral aspect of A Wasted Life, a review of Zombieland for this blog also seems oddly appropriate. Not that it'll have all that much new to say, though...
So, to briefly recap the basic plot of Zombieland for those of you have had your heads stuck up your butts for the past weeks, months, year: Zombieland tells the tale of four survivors in a world long gone zombie. Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) is a typical overly cautious but observant geek that has proven to be remarkably adept in surviving the zombie holocaust, and he serves as the narrator of the film, verbally injecting pithy observations of the disappointments and hopes of his life, how to survive zombies and – once too often – meaningful and heart-warming observations about life, friends, and family. Trudging down a highway he ends up hooking up with Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), a loud, fearless, and aggressive redneck with a hankering for Twinkies and a penchant for snakeskin jackets like that worn by Nicholas Cage in Wild at Heart (1990 / trailer). In no short order they get bamboozled (twice) and then hook up with Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin), two con-artist sisters heading west to go to an amusement park called Pacific Playland which, for some odd reason, they're convinced is empty of zombies. Arriving in LA, after a short stopover at a name actor's house (which allows for a short guest appearance of the said actor), the four end up at Playland, which proves to be empty of anything but zombies...
Is the film any good? Sure. Is it funny? Sure. Is it bloody? Sure. Is it entertaining? Sure. Is it all four all the time? Well, not really, but it's still more than worth watching.

Zombieland features excellent and truly funny dialog as well as some amazingly good acting for such a low-concept movie, but for a zombie comedy the flick is, well, actually rather empty of zombies. For all the zombie gut-munching and killing with which the film starts, once the introduction of the state of affairs is finished the highways, byways, and streets remain remarkably vacant for a nation of 308,122,046 people (10 Dec 2009 at 1 PM German time) and growing in which everyone has seemingly gone zombie. Should the situation not be closer to that of Dawn of the Dead remake (2004 / trailer) or even the original Night of the Living Dead (1968 / trailer) than, say, the non-zombie post-apocalypse flick The Quiet Earth (1985 / trailer)? True, there are occasional run-ins along the way as Tallahassee and Columbus search for Twinkies, but where are the teaming millions? Even when they reach Hollywood, a land full of zombies in real life today, they are confronted by little more than one undead Charlie Chapman and a handful of undead extras.
The result is, but for the beginning and the end and a few intermittent scenes, a zombie comedy that is often more comedy than zombie – and a far cry from the superior Shawn of the Dead (2004 / trailer), the film that director Ruben Fleischer states as having inspired him to make his undead comedy, and a film that didn't shy from blood or having zombies kill characters. (Shawn, in turn, is pretty tame in the blood department when compared to the granddaddy of all zombie comedy movies, Peter Jackson's Braindead / Dead Alive [1992 / trailer], a great film made too early for its time.) OK, the number of zombies does increase once the sisters do their great act of stupidity – namely, turning on the electricity of the Playland – but even then the population of Zombieland seems to be substantially less than, say, the current population of the Vatican (the smallest country in the world, with had a population of 821 in 2007).
Perhaps it seems to be knit-picking to complain that a film as well-acted and funny as Zombieland fails to consistently deliver in the zombie department, for indeed the film's lack of consistent blood and guts and undead violence doesn't stop the film from being highly entertaining. It's just that the flip-flopping the film does from zombie flick to non-zombie flick back to zombie flick makes it a slightly uneven ride, and the viewer can't help but notice that the film actually does begin to drag during more than one of the non-zombie stretches, despite the great dialog. This never happens enough to make the film bad, perhaps, but it is just enough to be noticeable.
That said, Zombieland is a mostly fun ride and good for a lot of laughs, and if you haven't seen it yet you truly should. Just take all the raves the film has gotten with a grain of salt: Zombieland is very good, verging on excellent, and for that it does deserve good word of mouth, but it doesn't really deserve the unadulterated raves it's been getting. Go expecting a masterpiece and you might be disappointed; go expecting a decent ride, and you just might like it. And if you do like it, and you haven't yet seen either Shawn of the Dead or Braindead, it is really time to catch up on your zombie comedy film history – for whatever technical flaws those two lower-budgeted films have in comparison to Zombieland, they nonetheless both have way bigger balls.

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