Monday, April 8, 2013

Movie – Zombieland (2009)

What do you get when you take three Oscar nominees and a Golden Globe nominee, throw them together in a movie about zombies, and let them do their thing?  Zombieland (which is, according to someone with way too much time on their hands, the highest grossing movie ever to start with the letter “Z”.)  While this may be sacrilege to Night of the Dawn of the Day of the Twilight of the Midmorning of the Shaun of the Dead fans, Zombieland is my favorite movie about zombies.

The film establishes its “zombie cred” at the opening when we see in flashback how the entire world was overrun by them.  Most of what gore is shown in the movie appears during this sequence.  The rest of the film probably does not have anything more explicit than your average TV police show which shows bodies in various states of decomposition.

The opening is narrated by Columbus, played by Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network).  We learn his rules for surviving a zombie apocalypse.  They include cardio (“the fatties were the first ones to go”), the double tap, and to beware of bathrooms.  These rules appear on the screen in humorous ways as we are told about them.  We quickly learn that even if there hadn’t been an outbreak of zombies, Columbus would have had issues from all his neuroses.  His first sign that anything is wrong is when his gorgeous neighbor, 406 (Amber Heard), tries to attack him. 

Out on the road he meets Tallahassee, played by Woody Harrelson (The People vs. Larry Flynt, The Messenger).  After some initial distrust they decide to continue on together.  Tallahassee is the opposite of Columbus.  He plays things loose and isn’t worried at all about how to keep himself safe from zombies.  He stops at a supermarket in his constant quest to find a surviving Hostess Twinkie to eat.  That’s where Columbus and Tallahassee meet Wichita, played by Emma Stone (Easy A), and Little Rock, played by Abigail Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine).

You’ll note no one is given a real name, not even the hot neighbor.  After the zombie outbreak people adopted the usage of where they were from as their names so that if they ran into other people from there they could maybe find out news.  The movie never goes into detail on why the sisters Wichita and Little Rock are from different cities, even though they are shown as being together before the zombie outbreak.

Things don’t go well when Columbus and Tallahassee first meet Wichita and Little Rock – the girls end up with their guns and their truck.  Tallahassee finds a Humvee loaded with weapons (“thank God for rednecks!”) and he and Columbus go in pursuit of the two girls.  Eventually they all work out their differences and decide to travel together.  Wichita wants to take Little Rock to the west coast where she has heard there is a safe zone.  The men know this is probably false, but Wichita lets them know she is doing this for her little sister, to keep her hopes up.  They go along with it.

I won’t spoil anything that happens when they do get there.  There’s a great cameo by yet another Oscar nominee.  I would say who it is – far too many reviews spoil the reveal – but I will say that it’s a lot of fun.  There is also a short scene after the credits with an additional appearance by this person.

Harrelson and Eisenberg make a good Odd Couple, while Stone and Breslin are believable as sisters.  There’s a funny little scene that was adlibbed by Breslin where Little Rock is trying to explain the greatness of Hannah Montana to Tallahassee.  According to the movie’s commentary Breslin was just as fascinated with the show as other girls her age, despite being an actress herself, and everything she was saying was her own feelings about Hannah.

Reportedly this movie started out as a TV pilot, but was eventually turned into a movie.  Even while it was still in theaters people were already talking about a sequel, but it has not happened yet.  As I write this there are reports now that it might finally be on TV as a series, but without any of the movie’s performers, of course.  Harrelson and Breslin were already well known and both Eisenberg and Stone’s careers have taken off since this film.  In fact, now that Eisenberg has starred in The Social Network as the founder of Facebook there’s a fun moment for people in Zombieland when Eisenberg’s character mentions that one of the good things about living in Zombieland is not having to update your Facebook status anymore.

Comparisons between this film and Shaun of the Dead (2004) were numerous.  In fact, I saw Zombieland called “the American Shaun of the Dead” on many occasions.  I don’t know that that’s fair to either film.  Yes, they are comedic horror movies about zombies, but that’s about where the comparisons end.  Shaun of the Dead is a more traditional zombie movie where a number of people try to get to a shelter while zombies close in and kill them one by one, while Zombieland is more of a road movie where zombies are the biggest hazard the travelers have to face.

I like Zombieland a lot.  It is very funny and entertaining.  In fact, you could almost say it is a comedy first and a horror movie second, rather than the other way around.  Unless you can’t stand any kind of zombie movies at all, I highly recommend this film.

Chip’s Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

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  1. It's fun, goofy, and never takes itself too seriously. Still can't understand why the hell they're doing a TV series to this and can't just make a worth it sequel. Good review Chip!

    1. "Still can't understand why the hell they're doing a TV series to this and can't just make a worth it sequel."

      I agree. Thanks.

  2. I don't think it's sacrilege to like this one the best. It's a matter of taste more than anything, and the vast majority of zombie movie fans (of which I am one) love this one. It isn't my favorite zombie film, but it ranks.

    My wife is not a horror fan at all, but her cousin made her sit through this one. She liked it well enough despite being a nervous wreck for the entire running time.

    As for Little Rock, I always got the impression that they called her that because she needed her own name and she was smaller, so they went with a place name that indicated smaller stature. But I could be wrong.

    1. "As for Little Rock, I always got the impression that they called her that because she needed her own name and she was smaller, so they went with a place name that indicated smaller stature."

      I actually almost speculated that the "Little" was intentional for the reason you mentioned, but I decided to leave the question open ended in my review. Glad to see someone else thought this way, too.

      "It isn't my favorite zombie film, but it ranks."

      Out of curiosity, what is your favorite?

    2. Good question. If you classify 28 Days Later as a zombie film, it's that. Many people object to that classification, though. In that case, it's probably the original Dawn of the Dead.

      If the filmmakers had wanted the "Little Rock" thing to really be about size/age, they could've called her sister Big Rock, which is a town about 20 miles from where I live.

  3. I love this movie -- it's fun and goofy, and it's one of the few movies my 14-year-old son and I can watch together repeatedly. Excellent review!

    1. Thanks. I'm glad you enjoyed both the review and the movie.