Living, laughing with the undead in fast, funny Zombieland

by Mark Burger

Living, laughing with the undead in fast, funny Zombieland

Combining horror with humor — and vice-versa — is risky business, but Zombieland, which marks the debut feature of director Ruben Fleischer, beats the odds and offers a wry, winning Halloween treat.

The hero of Zombieland is Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), an all-American suburban teenager who finds himself one of the few remaining humans following the worldwide cataclysm that has reduced most of the population to drooling, oozing, flesh-eating zombies.

Columbus has developed a few rules for dealing with the undead, which he imparts both to the audience (via narration and onscreen graphics) and to the fellow survivors he encounters — all of whom are named, apparently, for the cities from which each hails.

There’s Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), a swaggering roustabout who has discovered that his main talent in life is killing zombies, and Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin), siblings who are headed toward a popular amusement park that they remember visiting years before and which they hope isn’t infested with zombies. (One glance at the title should dispel that notion.)

An engaging camaraderie among the four leads makes Zombieland a likable diversion that should find favor with both horror and comedy fans. In an era when zombie movies have become mainstream — and who could’ve ever guessed that? — this takes as many farcical chances as the 2004 cult favorite Shaun of the Dead yet stands on its own merits, with its own identity and its own distinctive sense of humor.

For all of its irreverent sensibilities, Zombieland remains firmly entrenched in the horror genre, replete with gruesome special effects that would be right at home in a more serious-minded shocker. The laughs don’t come at the zombies’ expense, as it were, but are derived from the quirks and neuroses of the human characters, whether it’s Tallahassee’s never-ending quest for Twinkies or Columbus wrestling with his adolescent hormones whenever Wichita’s around.

There’s also an extremely funny detour to the Hollywood mansion of Bill Murray (having a grand time sending himself up), whose previous onscreen experience as one of the Ghostbusters has held him in good stead following the undead onslaught.

Screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick are obviously well-versed in zombie lore, tossing in a number of in-jokes and pop-culture references that never compromise the film’s zippy, confident pacing. Michael Bonvillain’s cinematography is also worthy of note.

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