October 2, 2009

Zombieland (Not New Jersey)

**Warning. This review contains some minor spoilers, so if you're a surprise-type Pokemon I suggest you keep spamming "sleep" until you've seen it. Also, Rosebud is the sled.**

There are zombie movies, and then there is Ruben Fleischer's Zombieland. Don't run to see this movie. Get in your zombie-proofed SUV and slam through traffic like Mel Gibson on a bender to this movie.

You've heard the premise of Zombieland before-- If you've seen fifteen seconds of any zombie movie since George A. Romero barfed all over the first print of Night of the Living Dead, you'll understand what Zombieland is about. Yes, we've got a diverse group of survivors who learn to tolerate each other through battle with the undead. Yes, we've got shotguns and chainsaws and all sorts of zombie killing devices which get used for better or worse effect. So, in lue of repeating the tired old zombie premise, I will just run down the checklist of traits this film fulfills as part of it's genre:

Zombies: Running and climbing, but killed by headshots.
Hero: pathetic.
Love interest: Two dimensional.
Main character survival rate: %100

That being said, if Zombieland played itself with a straight face, it would feel like an over-budget remake of Dawn of the Dead except without the mall or the tacky seventies film palette. Luckily, Zombieland is unlike any other zombie movie you've ever seen before, because of Fleischer's ability to stuff absolutely everything you could ever want out of a zombie horror comedy into only 81 minutes of bloody, graphic celluloid. This is the baby Jesus of zombie movies.

If you're the kind of person who wants a few pop-scares and a few gross-outs to keep you interested, this movie has something for you. Each shotgun blast feels like an earthquake in the theater, and the danger feels real even when the film launches into one of it's many flippant, comedic digressions like an episode of Family Guy with even worse attention deficit disorder than it already has.

No, it's not quite as go-tell-your-friends funny as 2003's seminal zombie classic Shaun of the Dead with all it's pan-referential glory, but there's something pitch-perfect about Zombieland's gags. This zombie apocalypse has all the humor of a world collapsing in on it's own contradictions and neuroses: sketchy men are chased by zombie strippers out of lowlife tittybars. A soccer mom is pursued by her own tutu-clad brood from a deadified birthday party. An nonathletic sports jerk is outrun by a zombie footballer under the Friday night lights and digested like Terrell Owens shotgunning a whole bag of popcorn. I found myself simultaneously horrified and in hysterics watching these pedestrian scenes of domestic tranquility erupt in sudden ironic violence. If Franz Kafka frothed at the mouth and ate brains, he'd be right there with 'um.

And that doesn't even cover the other brilliant parts of this movie. Jesse Eisenberg plays an hero who might rival Michael Cerna as the most awkward person in cinema. Woody Harrelson plays a character whose only motivation is to collect every Twinkie in the continental US and Mexico. There is even a cameo / guest star (epic spoilers in link) who provides the best performance for a walk-on role I've seen in years.

The dialogue is witty without testing the bounds of realism. The situation comedy channels the darkest elements of absurdity. The zombies are frakin' scary, and even though some of the best jokes are spoiled in the trailer, they're still incredibly funny on second, third, and fifty-second views. So with that, I'll leave you with something brainy to chew over: