Movies

Road-Tripping In 'Zombieland,' Gag Reflex Intact

W: Woody Harrelson in 'Zombieland'

Happy Hunting: Woody Harrelson's loose, loopy Tallahassee makes a kind of freestyle art of dispatching zombies — which makes him a perfect foil for Jesse Eisenberg's neurotically methodical Columbus. Sony Pictures hide caption

toggle caption Sony Pictures

Zombieland

  • Director: Ruben Fleischer
  • Genre: Comedy, Horror
  • Running Time: 82 minutes

Rated R: for ghouls, gore, and a not-so-obscure reference to Deliverance

With: Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, Abigail Breslin, Amber Heard

How difficult is it to make an original zombie movie? In the past five years alone, we've seen Nazi zombies (Dead Snow), stripper zombies (Zombie Strippers), found-footage zombies (Quarantine), linguistic zombies (Pontypool), zombie plagues (I Am Legend), zombie sheep (Black Sheep), the zombie as metaphor for Iraq (Land Of The Dead, 28 Weeks Later), zombified MySpace-era narcissism (Diary Of The Dead) and a zombie-plagued hat tip to the dead-eyed drudgery of everyday London (Shaun Of The Dead).

The irreverent new splatter comedy Zombieland recognizes the obvious: It's a zombies' world now, and we're just living in it. With virtually the entire populace feasting on the dwindling ranks of the living, hope for humanity is every bit as bleak in this apocalypse as in, say, the ashen hellscape of Cormac McCarthy's The Road. The difference is a matter of perspective: You can shuffle glumly off this mortal coil, or you can ransack a Native American tchotchke shop, feast on an abandoned truckload of Hostess Sno Balls and blow away wave after wave of undead mutants.

With its refreshing glass-half-full attitude, Zombieland orders a la carte from a menu of genre tropes, running the aggressive, high-speed zombies of current vintage through the consumerist utopia of George Romero's Dawn Of The Dead. As zombie fare, there's nothing especially original about it — at times, it gives off the stale whiff of a prefab cult movie — but as a buddy picture, it's completely infectious, coasting on the odd-couple chemistry of Jesse Eisenberg and Woody Harrelson.

Paired up on the open road, where they give each other handles based on their intended destinations, Eisenberg's "Columbus" and Harrelson's "Tallahassee" have different strategies for surviving the zombie onslaught. An agoraphobic ball of neuroses, Columbus follows a hilariously rigorous set of rules (always look in the back seat, beware of bathrooms, kill beasties a second time to make sure they're dead); Tallahassee, with his guileless redneck swagger, just points and shoots. Shortly after forming a tenuous alliance, they're hijacked by two sisters (Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin) who want a ride to an amusement park in California.

The Gang i

Teaming up with a pair of no-nonsense sisters (Abigail Breslin and Emma Stone) — Tallahassee and Columbus light out for what's reportedly one of the few remaining zombie-free zones: L.A. Sony Pictures hide caption

toggle caption Sony Pictures
The Gang

Teaming up with a pair of no-nonsense sisters (Abigail Breslin and Emma Stone) — Tallahassee and Columbus light out for what's reportedly one of the few remaining zombie-free zones: L.A.

Sony Pictures

Whenever Zombieland pauses to reflect on how these four "orphans" form a surrogate family, it dips into unearned sentimentality, but director Ruben Fleischer keeps the tone light and the style popping, and he wisely leans on his actors for the rest. An inspired cameo appearance is the clear comic highlight — hopefully the Internet can keep the person's identity a secret, though don't count on it — but the back-and-forth between the fretful Eisenberg of The Squid And The Whale and Harrelson, at his most dopily confident, are what holds this episodic adventure together. Zombieland has a blast frolicking in the playground of the undead, and it leaves a cheering thought for the coming zombie apocalypse: No waiting in line for the roller coaster.

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