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Hitch a ride to Zombieland

by Glen Baity

You may have noticed that in the last few years, zombies have entered a second golden age.

We’ve gotten wildly entertaining films like Shaun of the Dead and Zack Snyder’s remake of Dawn of the

Dead; video game homages like Dead Rising and Left 4 Dead; even a Jane Austen literary mash-up, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

For fans of the undead, these are the best of times, and Zombieland is another rotted, festering treat.

The story of — what else? — a group of survivors navigating the apocalypse, the film picks up with Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), whose voluminous neuroses have kept him alive since the undead disease started spreading a few months back. He’s heading back to Ohio to find his family when he links up with Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson, whose character insists that each of the survivors be referred to not by name, but destination). The foursome is completed when they pick up two shady sisters (Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin) who are making for a California theme park rumored to be zombie-free. They decide to travel together for a while on a road full of blood-spattered, half-decayed monsters.

Zombieland is less a horror movie than a road movie with hordes of flesh-eating ghouls. Consequently, it relies on the chemistry of its four principal actors. This turns out to be a winning proposition for director Ruben Fleischer, who keeps the action steady and the mood light. He gets the best out of four affable performers, all of whom seem to be having a great time clubbing, shooting and impaling their way across a ruined countryside.

It’s not all mayhem. There’s a point in the middle when the zombies fade into the background and the characters hole up in an LA mansion, enjoying one another’s company and deciding what to do next. It says a lot about the quality of the script by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick that this part doesn’t sag; to the contrary, there’s enough solid humor and little character moments to sustain a good zombie-less stretch (and anyway, at less than an hour and a half, the film flies by). Reese and Wernick also write in one of the best extended cameos in any movie I’ve ever seen. It’s tempting to spoil it, but you’re better off enjoying the surprise.

Though each cast member has great moments, the standout is Harrelson, who summons every ounce of his easygoing charm for this role. He’s long been one of the most likeable actors in Hollywood, and he clearly shares his character’s enthusiasm for creative zombiekillin’. It’s hard not to be won over by his joy. Eisenberg, for his part, plays essentially the same character he played in Adventureland earlier this year, and he’s likeable enough, even if he still comes off as the Heathcliff to Michael Cera’s Garfield.

Why are zombies so popular?

Maybe it’s the versatility. Their dead-eyed lumbering can be absolutely terrifying (Night of the Living Dead), or it can be hilarious (Shaun of the Dead), but there’s never any of the melancholic posturing so prevalent in, say, vampire movies. Zombies are blue-collar killers, hard-working and unpretentious by nature.

Fleischer deploys them here to snack on your funny bone, and it’s a great time at the movies. His sly sense of humor is on display throughout, starting with the crazy title sequence set to Metallica’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls.” If you’re looking for scares, Zombieland might not be your thing — while there’s plenty of gore, there’s not a bit of tension here. As long as you know what you’re in for, it’s nearly impossible not to be entertained by this bloody cross-country trip.

To comment on this article, send your e-mail to glen.baity@gmail.com.

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