This disposable horror comedy is nothing more than a popcorn-chomping spectacle of subgenre nonsense. Fun!
After the zombie apocalypse, a craven young nebbish (Jesse Eisenberg) and a Twinkie-addicted road warrior (Woody Harrelson) take up arms together against unending multitudes of the undead. Actually, technically, they’re not undead. They’re just really sick, with a really contagious virus, whose symptoms include bloating, skin discoloration, unsightly pustules and violent compulsive cannibalism. The only known cure is death.
Jesse Eisenberg (left) goes from the awesomeness of Adventureland to the gruesomeness of Zombieland. Enjoy the ride, kid!
And so our weird dynamic duo’s goal isn’t so much to defeat them as it is to survive them, with occasional flourishes of ass-kicking. For this they have equal parts help and hindrance from two sisters (Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin) who’ve set out for a rumored zombie-free Los Angeles theme park. No such luck with that, predictably: The park is, in fact, utterly crawling with the beasts. But at least there’s a rollercoaster and a Tilt-A-Whirl! You have to enjoy the little things. That’s one of the rules.
Zombieland wears the weight of zombie-movie history lightly. It gets away with not being as good as Shaun of the Dead by not even trying to be. It’s not particularly interested in a survey of the genre, nor at all concerned that, as a recent academic paper argued, “proliferation of zombie contagion narratives in cultural discourse signify [sic] a deeper problematic about the nature of control in a distributed network society.” Well, O.K., maybe there is a comment in there somewhere about epidemic social anxiety and fear of intimacy. Ass is to be kicked, most certainly, but names are not to be taken. All the characters go by aliases of place: Columbus, Tallahassee, Wichita, Little Rock and, in the case of Columbus’ neighbor (Amber Heard), simply “406,” because that’s her apartment number.
Anyway, how well do we have to know them to know we like them? Each of Zombieland’s leads is inherently, uniquely adorable, as is Bill Murray in an extended cameo as himself, and although their collective chemistry is about as unlikely as survival in a country full of soulless flesh-eating automatons, it somehow works. Feature first-timer Ruben Fleischer’s direction is coarse but light; he keeps the action moving—sometimes in deliciously depraved slo-mo—without trampling on the improvisational hilarity brought to the table by his cast or the occasional ace moments in Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick’s otherwise slight script.
Maybe the best thing to say of Zombieland is that it never gets in its own way. Also, that it’s a fun place to visit, but you wouldn’t want to live there.