Sunday, January 10, 2010

Film Review: Zombieland

THERE are 32 rules in dealing with the undead in the United States of Zombieland, a post-apocalyptic America that has turned almost everyone into zombies after being afflicted by the human progression of mad cow disease.

Some of these rules, like Travel In A Group, Be Quiet and Know Your Way Out are pretty much self-explanatory. Others like Cardio, Double Tap, God Bless Rednecks and Enjoy The Little Things need to be further explained to the uninitiated.

For the four non-zombie characters (five if you count the hilarious cameo of a former Ghostbuster) of Zombieland, these are the rules that prevents them from becoming a special kind of Happy Meal in their quest for a zombie-free sanctuary. Yes, hilarious, because while there’s the obligatory eeew-inspiring gore, much of Zombieland is really designed for laughs rather than screams. It’s Dawn Of The Dead meets Road Trip as directed by Quentin Tarantino.

Only Tarantino is not at all involved in this film in any way. Newcomer Ruber Fleischer has crafted an exhilarating Tarantinoesque ride minus the excessive Tarantinoesque dialogue that the former’s works have been notorious for as of late.

Leading the charge for this zombie-busting mayhem is Woody Harrelson, who couldn’t have found a better comeback vehicle than this potential, no, make that guaranteed horror-comedy franchise. Not that the quirky actor was ever gone but after a string of largely forgettable supporting roles and equally forgettable cameos, Zombieland brings him back to lead star status and reminds us how electrifying (i.e. Natural Born Killers, The People Vs. Larry Flynt) his screen presence once was. Yes, even when he’s pretty much hamming it up here, he’s still way better than say, Vince Vaughn.

As the shotgun-toting Tallahasse obsessed with Twinkies (those golden sponge cakes with creamy filling that remains available only in the US) he bumps into Columbus (Jessie Eisenberg), who also incidentally came up with “The Rules” and reluctantly takes him in. Along the way, they encountered Wichita (Emma Stone) and her little sister Little Rock (Abegail Breslin), a pair of con artists who twice tried to leave them behind. Further along the way and in between all the looting, Little Rock’s driving lessons and a very special private screening, there’s plenty of zombie-whacking fun to keep our heroes preoccupied.

And Harrelson is also blessed with talented fellow cast members in Eisenberg (The Squid And The Whale), Stone (Superbad) and Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine) who all could more than keep up with him. It certainly didn’t hurt that the script allows for more characterization than what is usually expected in a film like this. They actually have their own interesting back stories and yes, their character names are taken from places where they're identified with.

To emphasize how much of a thrill ride Zombieland is, the climactic sequence takes place in, where else, but in an amusement park. Director Fleischer is not looking to push any envelopes here and his film is not without its share of cliches. But with a fine cast, a clever script and okay, inventive use of graphics in punctuating the above rules, he has given us something that is, in the immortal words of the late, great Colonel Sanders, finger-lickin’ good. Pun very much intended.

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