Posted on 6/19/10 05:51 PM
New Zealand has "Braindead" (or "Dead Alive" for Americans) and England has "Shaun of the Dead." Now the United States has its excellent zombie comedy, "Zombieland."
Following in the George Romero tradition, moviegoers enjoy the film for its characters and social commentary as much as for its gory special effects. "Shaun of the Dead" edges "Zombieland" out slightly in character and "Braindead" massively outweighs "Zombieland" (and probably every other horror film) in its gleeful use of gore.
The comparisons stop there. All three are excellent zombie comedies, but, because of the sensibilities of their nationally diverse creators, are strangely unique and difficult to rank against each other.
The story begins with college shut-in Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) making his way across post-zombie, American hellscape. Columbus survives by a set of rules. Rule #1: Cardio, because these are the fast, infected brand of zombies from "28 Days Later" and not the shambling "Night of the Living Dead" zombies. He has some 30 rules overall that have kept him alive in the two months the world's human population has disappeared.
He hitches a ride with Tallahassee (played with excellent Southern badassness by Woody Harrelson). Tallahassee has survived because he is a mean, crazy bastard who goes out of his way to kill any and all zombies. Tallahassee and Columbus stop at a grocery in Tallahassee's quest for a Twinkie.
In a back room of the store they meet Wichita (Emma Stone) and her kid sister Little Rock (Abigail Breslin). Little Rock feigns having been zombie-bitten, duping Columbus' and Tallahassee's firearms away from them when Wichita insists on putting her sister out of her misery when the two men hesitate on shooting a small girl.
Columbus and Tallahassee are duped again before they form a quartet heading to a supposedly safe amusement park on the west coast.
There is little more to the plot than a collection of very different people form a band with one destination to reach. The characters that make up this road trip are all well-developed and dynamic. Columbus grows from isolation to meaningful connection. Tallahassee tones down his craziness to become a father figure. Wichita becomes less guarded and cynical. Little Rock opens her circle beyond her sister. Together, the zombie-killers create a makeshift family.
As touching as the movie is, it stays hilarious and gory throughout. Human and zombie deaths are over-the-top funny and, with the aid of some terrific slow-motion, quite beautiful in a stomach-churning way. The tete-a-tete between the four is rapid and witty.
The movie has a few failings. The two sisters, despite being characterized as the smart ones, do some incredibly stupid things like risking Little Rock's life at the end of Tallahassee's gun during their first meeting or drawing every zombie in Los Angeles to their amusement park. Columbus' college apartment is inordinately large and well-furnished for a college shut-in with no apparent job. For a country with no people, and therefore no infrastructure, everywhere seems to be strangely with power.
Should I make much of this? Probably not. The opening credits include a three-legged race between a human father-son team and two pursuant zombie father-son teams. In Columbus' prologue, pre-teen zombie ballerinas attack a harried mother carpooler. This logical abandon is knowing and adds rather than detracts from the overall fun.
Zombies have turned out to be the reigning monster of cinema's pandemonium (except for "Let the Right One In," vampires have been pretty anemic of recent). Any zombie fan (and that includes an incredibly large subculture of weirdos cogitating upon undead apocalyptic scenarios) should certainly have this close to the top of their must-see list.