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Zombieland

By
Zombieland
Released on Friday, Oct 9 2009

Director: Ruben Fleischer
Screenwriters: Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone, Abigail Breslin, Amber Heard
Running time: 87 mins
Certificate: 15

The living dead have entertained cinemagoers since they first cropped up in Bela Lugosi's 1932 horror White Zombie. Subsequently, Hollywood has shifted away from the Haitian voodoo origins of the zombie. George Romero used them to deliver sociopolitical subtext in his Dead series, Danny Boyle sped up the monstrous creatures for his rage-infused post-apocalyptic 28 Days Later, and Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg took a comedic look at the genre with Shaun Of The Dead, though Pegg's Shaun famously ridiculed the notion of the term "zombie". This week's horredy Zombieland continues the thread of a viral zombie plague destroying humanity, borrowing from its cinematic ancestors but with enough verve to stay fresh and interesting.

A road movie of sorts, it finds college student Columbus (Eisenberg) battling for his life in an America where humans have become infected with a mad cow-like virus. He's an unlikely survivor - fidgety and obsessive-compulsive, but that aspect of his personality has kept him alive. He has a list of 47 rules that are strictly adhered to; among them cardio (stay fit to outrun pursuers), double tap (shoot a zombie twice, once in the head) and always check the back seat of a car (self-explanatory). Columbus encounters Tallahassee (Harrelson) on his travels, a man who relishes getting dirty and annihilating the undead. Along the way the unlikely duo pick up the sultry Wichita (Stone) and her sister Little Rock (Breslin) and journey across the perilous US wasteland together.

Zombieland is lean, tight and well-crafted multiplex entertainment, working in inventive deaths (many of which can be seen over the slow-mo opening credits) and wry comedy when Eisenberg is nervously under-playing his one-liners. He's better at doing Michael Cera than Cera himself, bringing a level of eruditeness that the Arrested Development star perhaps lacks. As he sits watching a film with Little Rock and learns that Witchita has a thing for bad boys, he casually pushes a bowl of popcorn off his lap. It's an easy gag but Eisenberg sells it effortlessly. His reactions to situations and the people around him keep the movie ticking, particularly during long lulls without any zombie attacks. Tallahassee, though, is a thinly drawn character - the only thing seemingly driving him is a quest for a Twinkie - but the sharp contrast with Eisenberg (a subtle and analytical actor compared to the instinctive and gregarious Harrelson) makes for an effective buddy combo.

Laden with pop culture references, it's puzzling that Zombieland seems to avoid confronting the existence of zombie movies. Surely Columbus would have factored that into his rulebook? There's a problematic romance between the two young stars - Stone (imagine Megan Fox with acting talent) and Eisenberg are good apart but have an awkward chemistry when sharing screen space. Add to that moments of horror movie stupidity (don't turn on all the lights at an amusement park in the dead of night!) and there are obvious flaws in Zombieland. For all its deficiencies the movie earns its stripes with a genius segment half-way through in which the protagonists infiltrate the home of an A-list Hollywood star. It shifts it from middle-of-the-road into something that has to be seen with an audience, if only to catch the reaction when this comedy kingpin reveals his one life regret after taking shotgun fire to the chest.


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