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Non-Review Review: Zombieland

It takes a certain mindset to enjoy Zombieland. Not everyone can laugh at the fact that a zombie clown’s nose squeaks as you bash its head with a mallet. Fortunately, I discovered, I can.

Tallahassee goes to bat...

The zombie comedy is rapidly becoming a subgenre in its own right, but it’s unfair to look on Zombieland simply as a copy of Shaun of the Dead. Shaun is drawn from the English school, where the ridiculousness of the situation must be met with a ridiculously mundane response from the character – the contrast seeming to make it funnier. Zombieland draws from the American school, where you take the inherent ridiculousness of the concept and heap even more ridiculousness upon it.

And it works… mostly. It’s a wonderfully charming comedy which is populated by characters who are a damnsight deeper than in most comedies or horrors brought to life by a cast of actors who are certainly more talented than most. At it’s core, the comedy is one of awkward romance, a typical “geek-trying-to-impress-attractive-girl” comedy, with the added bonus of zombies. And it works because, let’s face it, nerds and geeks (myself included) are the target market for this sort of zombie film.

The general tone of the film is more a wry smirk than laugh-out-loud giggling (not that there aren’t moments of that). It’s clearly and cleverly constructed as a sort of curteous tipping-of-the-hat to the zombie classics, just filtered through the lens of an audience that is familiar enough to know the rules. Those rules are codified by our erstwhile narrator into handy survival advice, like “cardio” or “limber up” or “beware of bathrooms”. Perhaps the most interesting visual trick of the film (save its fantastically kenetic finale), is the way that it silently flags these rules as they are invoked or ignored by the cast of characters.

The use of the word “zombie” in its title will lead you to believe that it is fundamentally a monster movie, but – much like virtually every other solid zombie movie out there – it isn’t really. George A. Romero made socially conscious films on race and consumerism, that just happened to feature zombies. 28 Days Later is a cold condemnation of the capacity for selfish evil in the face of the unstoppable, which just so happen to be “the infected” (a euphemism shrewdly referenced in posters in the background of certain scenes in this movie). Thus, though zombieland features truckloads of undead critters, it isn’t a through-and-through zombie film. 

Zombieland is a quirky family road movie, perhaps more closely related to Little Miss Sunshine than Dawn of the Dead (they even drive around in a bright yellow vehicle with Abigail Breslin). Once the zombie apocalypse kicks in, we don’t see anyone left alive except our four survivalists (there is a fifth one that appears, but we’ll exclude that because it’s an awesome setpiece). And it isn’t because there’s no one left (the film gives hints either way, with the ruins of Columbus discussed, but also a vibrant underground faux-zombie make-up business in the works), it’s just because no one matters outside the group. It’s a road movie, with the four lead character all heading to different locations… or are they?

That said, there is a wicked sense of humour at play here and – if you’re in the right state of mind – it’s endlessly funny. Part of the fun is the sheer tastelessness of certain scenes (this is a movie with a “zombie kill of the week”, you should remember), but most of it comes from sheer over-the-top good fun. Witness the summoning of zombies with the Duelling Banjos theme from Deliverence, or the first place the group go when they reach Beverly Hills. The jokes don’t really come flooding in at a dozen a minute, but the movie gives us interesting characters and smart setpieces to keep us entertained in those moments we aren’t at risk of laughing our guts out.

Here I must concede that I don’t entirely like Jesse Eisenberg. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a talented actor – but something just irritates me about the forced nerdiness of his performance. He doesn’t seem entirely at ease being ill-at-ease, if that makes sense? On the other hand, the other three leads are fantastic, in particular Woody Harrelson as Tallahassee, the twinkie-craving, banjo-weilding, gun-totting, whiskey-drinking professional zombie killer. Harrelson is always interesting to watch, and here he’s at his best, taking the quirky supporting role and making it truly his own.

Zombieland is solidly entertaining. It does what it says on the tin. It isn’t the best zombie comedy you’ll ever see, but it is very good. The care and love put into the film make it hard to shrug off its geekish charm. Who knew a zombie apocalypse could be this much fun?

7 Responses

  1. Wasn’t expecting much from this going in, but I still think that this was the funniest movie of ’09. Fun and smart take on the zombie genre that’s quickly starting to get old. Right there with you on Eisenberg, but I gotta say, kid’s starting to grow on me; drove me up the effing wall in Squid and the Whale.

    Also features what might be the best. cameo. ever.

    “Do you have any regrets?”
    “Maybe Garfield.”

    • It’s nice to know that I am not alone in my irritation with Eisenberg.

      Apparently that line was just one of several dozen adlibs for that scene from Murray. Here’s what Eisenberg had to say:

      At the end, when he’s shot, Abigail Breslin asks ‘Do you have any regrets?’ and he says “Garfield,” but he had maybe 100 different lines that were funnier than the next. He would say like, “I wish I’d taken better care of my skin.” My favorite one, “Well, probably that I tried to scare this idiot.” I said “I know, I have that same regret.” He had a million different lines.

      I’d narrowly give the funniest comedy to The Hangover, but I’m a bit odd like that.

  2. “Not everyone can laugh at the fact that a zombie clown’s nose squeaks as you bash its head with a mallet. Fortunately, I discovered, I can.”

    (You and me both, Darren.)

    What surprised me about “Zombieland” is that it had a bit of depth in it relating to the characters and some really sharp, incisive writing. And Aiden R. is dead-on about that cameo. I bought the movie and I’ve seen it four more times, and that damn “Garfield” line makes me bust a gut. Every. Single. Time.

    • I’m with you on the writing – it’s incredibly sharp and fits like a glove. I’m glad to hear that those two guys are reportedly on their way to conquer Hollywood and bring some much need script love to films like Deadpool and GI Joe II. I think they may make me excited about the tenth X-Men spin-off film and a sequel to GI Joe. That’s pretty awesome.

  3. Hahahaha. That is awesome. Bill Murray, man. Dude is a god.

  4. And I’m right there with you on Deadpool. That really does deserve a kickass script, what an awesome and funny character.

    • I haven’t read much of the character, I imagine there’ll be an omnibus releases to tie-in to the movie. But yeah, he is much more interesting than X-Men Origins: Wolverine would lead anyone to believe.

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