After the brilliant Shaun of the Dead (and the decidedly less than brilliant Zombie Strippers!, among others), I figured the zombie spoof genre had played itself out.
Zombieland proved me wrong. The genius of the film is that it’s more buddy flick than horror spoof. And director Ruben Fleischer keeps things fresh with a freewheeling, anything-goes narrative (out of nowhere, for example, he will cut to the “Zombie Kill of the Week”) and a blissfully short attention span (the film clocks in at a perfect 82 minutes). It’s also funny. As hell.
Jesse Eisenberg plays Columbus, one of the few survivors of an epidemic virus that turned most people into flesh-eating zombies. How did a scrawny, brainy outcast (he even has iritible bowel syndrome) like Columbus survive the zompocalypse? By adhering to his own very strict sense of rules. (One rule: “Always Check the Back Seat.”)
Columbus meets another survivor—an alpha male brimming with guts and swagger dubbed Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson, who hasn’t had a role this juicy in years.) Under normal circumstances, these men would have nothing to do with each other. In Zombieland, they team up to kick some zombie butt (well, Tallahassee does most of the butt-kicking; Columbus is very good at running and hiding).
Into the mix comes tough-as-nails Wichita (rising star Emma Stone) and her spunky little sister Little Rock (Abigail Breslin). A pair of Paper Moon-style con-artists, they use their wits to survive. Of course, the earnest Columbus will fall hard for the unsentimental Wichita.
Yes, Zombieland tries a bit too hard to be a cult classic (one particular cameo feels forced and Tallahassee’s Twinkie obsession is bordering on cutesy). But writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick not only have a sharp sense of comic dialogue, they clearly spent their formative years coming up with hilarious and creative ways to kill zombies. Their misspent youth is our gain.