Saturday 14 November 2009

Movie Review: Zombieland (2009)

A movie that is not pretending to be anything other than a hip comedy-horror-zombie adventure had better deliver good characters at the centre of the action or else risk being nothing but a satire: Zombieland aces this test with four terrific characters in Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin), portraying survivors of the zombie apocalypse who need to also survive each other.

So Mad Cow disease makes the jump and creates Mad Humans, with almost everyone transformed into manic flesh-devouring zombies. These zombies are not the undead -- they are fast, hungry, ugly and just a bloody mess. They are also thankfully easy to kill. The surviving humans who have not yet been infected can use a variety of weapons, from shotguns to banjos (you gotta see the movie to appreciate this) to avoid becoming zombie meals.

Columbus is the nerd type who survived the apocalypse mostly because he enjoys the company of his computer more than the company of people. He is making his was to Columbus, Ohio (hence the name), to check on his parents. Along the way he teams up with Tallahassee, the tough urban-cowboy type who was told by his mother a long time ago that he will eventually be good at something. That something turned out to be killing zombies, a task he accepts with a worrisome relish.

Columbus and Tallahassee eventually encounter Wichita and Little Rock, sassy street-smart sisters who are making their way to California's Pacific Playland, which is rumoured to be zombie-free. The girls twice dupe the guys before the group gels and the foursome team up on their journey west.

The movie quickly settles into a terrifically enjoyable, character-driven road movie, with frequent zombie-killing interludes, and achieves just the right balance between wry comedy and hard-edged action. The four actors play their roles to perfection, with a sparkly smile behind their eyes. They are briefly joined by Bill Murray in a cameo as himself, when the group take refuge in his Beverly Hills mansion.

Eisenberg as Columbus provides the level-headed perspective on the unhinged world, while Harrelson as Tallahassee is very close to being suitably unhinged himself. This is a career-defining Harrelson performance that will long be remembered.

Stone as the tough Wichita nails the dark elder sister who becomes the eventual target of Columbus' affection. Breslin as the younger sister manages the difficult task of portraying the capable 12-year old without the nausea-inducing wise-cracking-smarter-than-she-looks stereotype.

In addition to the four lead performers, director Ruben Fleischer deserves a lot of credit for perfectly pacing the movie and drawing out the strengths of each of the characters. The editing is thankfully coherent and avoids epilepsy-inducing micro-cuts. The music, including crunchy heavy metal from the likes of Metallica, perfectly accompanies the action.

The movie is brave enough and good enough to pull off a running gag relating to Columbus' numbered "rules of survival" for Zombieland. Everytime he introduces us to a rule, it appears as text on the screen, and everytime the rule is put into action, it is also re-displayed on the screen. It's an audacious moviemaking stunt, and it works.

The move thankfully does not shy away from blood, gore, and foul language -- this is not a sanitized family-friendly comedy. The hard edges of the zombie apocalypse are up-front and are gruesome -- which all serves to enhance the impact of the characters and the comedy when they take centre stage.

It all ends with a massive and hyper-enjoyable zombie-killing extravaganza at Pacific Playland, complete with a large clown. It's a fittingly insane ending to a highly engaging movie.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

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