Produced by: Gavin Polone
Written by: Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick
Edited by: Peter Amundson, Alan Baumgarten
Cinematography by: Michael Bonvillain
Music by: David Sardy
Starring: Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, Abigail Breslin, [redacted]
As a sort of American counterpart to the immortal and Halloween annual favorite of mine, Shaun of the Dead, Zombieland is surprisingly not very derivative of its then-5-year-old cousin from across the Atlantic and managed to carve out its own little niche of fandom (though there are undoubtedly overlaps between the two films). Whereas Shaun (now possibly the most referenced title on this blog) sought to contrast everyday life and troubles amidst the interruption of a zombie apocalypse, Zombieland is rather more about the adaptation to a new way of life post-apocalypse. Rather than take a bleak outlook, however, the film acknowledges that, much like in real life, the horrors and tragedies of the world are often offset by the little things that, more or less, make up for all the crap.
Our gateway into the overrun world of Zombieland is Columbus, a nerdy kid living on his own whose secret to survival is his ever growing list of lessons to remember – Always check the backseat, remember your cardio, always doubletap, etc. Columbus tells us that, so far as he knows, the world has been overrun with zombies, and all that’s left is them and anyone disciplined enough to outsmart the hordes of indiscriminate, crazed cannibals (these are the 21st century runner types, not your shuffling George Romero variety). Columbus, by the way, is not his actual name, but rather the name he took from his hometown in Ohio. Most everybody in this new world tends to go by the name of some place specific to them, you see, so as to avoid getting too attached. This includes Tallahassee, a roughneck whom Columbus is reluctantly taken in by who takes particular joy in slaughtering zombies in creative ways while tracking down the one food he craves most: Twinkies. (One need not imagine Tallahassee’s reaction to this past year’s temporary loss of that particular snack food – I imagine it would largely be unchanged from his actions in the film, only with Hostess employees instead of zombies.)
Both have heard rumors of safe zones on the other side of the country, but Tallahassee is reluctant to buy into any such hype seriously. Regardless, they decide trek on together and eventually come across con artist sisters Wichita and Little Rock, who lack a means of transportation but aim to reach the west coast, where the otherwise streetwise Little Rock has been assured is a zombie-free land where she can be a real kid riding rollercoasters once again. Being the stereotypical shy nerd type, Columbus naturally falls for Wichita, even if she’s a bit of an unrepentant opportunist. Being possibly one of the few remaining bachelors on the earth, however, Columbus finds that present world events has given him a bit more boldness with the ladies. That Columbus is very likely one of the few remaining bachelors on earth within reasonable distance hasn’t been lost on Wichita, either, it seems, and, as a bonus, she realizes he’s not such a bad guy, either.
Zombieland, therefore, is not just a horror comedy, but also a road trip/mismatched buddy comedy wherein the characters, at first being at odds with one another, grow closer amidst the various challenges they face and moments of levity they share together, eventually forming an unexpected family unit along the way. The film doesn’t break new ground, really, and doesn’t even best Shaun of the Dead when it comes to wit, humor, or memorable moments, but, much like its cast characters, it assembles into an unexpectedly joyful, engaging package that contains plenty of laughs and thrills, even if it lacks in outright scary moments.
The tiny cast of primary actors (plus one major surprise cameo appearance that has become fairly well known by now but which I will refrain from spoiling within the review [but not in the tags], all the same) is superb. Jesse Eisenberg’s amiable Columbus is just the right amount of everyman that we can all relate to, even if you aren’t a nerd, but he’s nerdy and distinguishable enough to not outright be a stock character, either. Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin make for a fun duo as Wichita and Little Rock, two tough girls who led a tough life even before the outbreak, and both actresses lend their characters the right amount of vulnerability so as to avoid becoming compensatory, boring girl-power action heroes. (They are fleshed out characters who resemble actual people, in other words.) Woody Harrelson as the short-tempered, violence-prone Tallahassee is also fantastic – taking what could have been a ridiculous stereotype hick and helping to turn him into the sort of hero you initially put up with just to ensure that you have him on your side, only to realize that, deep down, he does care, after all.
It’s a shame that, as of now, a Zombieland sequel hasn’t yet materialized, despite the cast’s initial enthusiasm for one. The mildly amusing but ultimately failed Amazon original TV series, which featured a vastly inferior new cast inhabiting these roles, is probably best left forgotten, though I’m certain my recording its existence here will now ensure that its memory will live on like the discovery of a festering corpse after so many weeks would. I think we can all be grateful that those initial TV plans did fall through, however, as I can’t imagine that they would have been much better than what we got here, with this film’s budget and ability to cast these actors. Zombieland didn’t even seem to me to be anything that special when the trailers first released, but I can say now that I’m happy this all worked out the way it has. We may not be getting countless more hours of this would-be franchise than if the show or sequel had come to fruition, but would that actually be nearly as good as what we got? Probably not. Remember Rule #32:
The Viewer’s Commentary Rating: 4 / 5