Sunday, October 11, 2009

Rule #4 The Double Tap - A Review of Zombieland

I can't quite seem to catch up these days, what with being sick and having deadlines and assorted other commitments. On my birthday weekend, Steve took me to see Zombieland. Well, that was a week ago, and I still haven't posted a review, so I'd better get cracking....

Zombieland, directed by Ruben Fleischer (no, I hadn't heard of him either), follows four survivors of a worldwide zombie-virus holocaust as they master their zombie-fighting skills and search for a zombie-free safe haven. Woody Harrelson stars as Tallahassee, a tough-talking, zombie-slaying pro who joins forces (if a bit unwillingly) with innocent, lost soul Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg, Adventureland.) As they search for food, namely Tallahassee's Twinkies, they encounter two, young sisters (Emma Stone, Superbad, and Abigail Breslin, Little Miss Sunshine), and eventually they become a foursome.

This film is hardly the first to poke fun of the zombie movie genre, but it does manage to walk the fine line between parody and zombie cliche with an ease that even Shaun of the Dead didn't quite manage. While Shaun slipped back into the very overly-dramatic zombie flick elements that it sought to mock, Zombieland maintains its tongue-in-cheek tone throughout without becoming directionless. One of my favorite elements in this film that helped with the overall tone was the list of zombie survival rules. Eisenberg's character begins the film with a list of his top survial tips in order of importance. What's survival rule #1? Cardio. Makes sense if you're going to be doing a lot of running from the undead. As the movie continues, these rules pop up on screen as appropriate situations present themselves. Tired of seeing people die senselessly in movies because they didn't bother to make sure the gutshot zombie was dead? That needed final bullet to the brain is the Double Tap, and every time someone implements it in the film, the rule materializes onscreen, a comic reminder that is funny. Every time.

Of the four main characters, Woody Harrelson's wild man Tallahassee stood out as the most original. His humor, while classic Harrelson, is a departure from the doomed zombie fighters of the past. There is something freeing in not having to "worry" about the main character's safety because he never worries about himself. Eisenberg's portrayal of the bumbling Columbus smacked slightly of a Michael Cera homage, but he was still funny, and at times, charming.

For me, the best part of the film was the cameo. It's not often that inserting a big star into a bit part can steal the entire movie, but Bill Murray's appearance as himself does just that. From the moment the four travelers drive through his gates with the giant "BM" across the iron bars to his final post-credits bit, the cameo is quirky, random, and perfectly wacky.

It is, of course, important to remember that this is still a zombie film. It is not for the weak of stomach. There is blood, guts, and zombie vomit (whatever that is). Overall, however, the film is more about humor than high drama, and unlike the Shaun of the Dead group, this rag-tag team mostly sticks to their zombie-survival rules so the audience can spend less time saying "Look behind you!" and more time laughing hysterically.

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