You know how it starts; a strange disease appears turning normal people into violent murderous cannibals. Humans respond badly, and rather than contain the infection and destroy the infected, they let it spread. Before you know it a couple of months has passed, and America has become the United States of Zombieland.
If “Shaun of the Dead” was a tribute to Romero's zombie classics, then “Zombieland” is a love letter to the modern “running zombie” (which is to say that not all of the zombies are undead, many are just infected living people) genre of films like the “28 ___ Later” films, and the “Left 4 Dead” games. A lot of people have been comparing this film to SotD, but a better comparison would actually be 1992's “Dead Alive” (or “Braindead”, depending on where you are), as both rely very heavily on violence and extreme gore to punctuate their humour.
To survive in “Zombieland”, you need to follow the rules, and Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg: “Adventureland”) is a man whose rules range from wearing seatbelts and doing cardio (it was the fatties that died first, so I'm screwed) to avoiding bathrooms (this make sense in context) and not being a hero. All he wants to do is get home and see if his parents are still alive.
On his journey, Columbus meets up with Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson: “No Country for Old Men”), a man whose lack of discipline and rules is made up for by his sheer insanity and brutality. He enjoys breaking things, whether it be inanimate objects or zombie skulls. Columbus and Tallahassee join up, and do okay together for awhile, until they meet up with Wichita and Little Rock.
Wichita (Emma Stone: “Superbad”), and her sister, Little Rock (Abigail Breslin: “My Sister's Keeper”) survive by their own set of rules. After some initial problems, the two pairs eventually end up traveling together to California in search of the Pacific Playland amusement park and Twinkies.
The acting in this film is more than adequate. Harrelson plays the insane redneck that he is so good at, and steals many of the scenes from the other actors. Eisenberg seems to be channeling George Michael Bluth for much of the movie (the fact that he's stolen Michael Cera's hair contributes a lot to this, I think), but it fits the cowardly former Warcraft-and-Mountain-Dew addict character of Columbus well. Stone and Breslin both also give great performances, but they do come across as secondary to the male leads.
One of the brightest points of “Zombieland” is the appearance of Bill Murray. To tell you anything about these scenes would be to spoil what is one of the funniest parts of the film. I'll leave it by saying that it is great to see Murray in such a funny role after the more serious bit parts in films like “The Darjeeling Limited”.
If I were to have anything negative to say about this film it would be that it is maybe too gory in parts. I actually found the first ten minutes of the film to be uncomfortably disturbing for a comedy; these scenes are still funny, but the sheer amount of gore in them did bother me. After these scenes the gore stopped bothering me, which isn't to say that it's toned down any; there is still plenty of blood and guts in there just for the sake of having blood and guts, but I guess I got used to it.
The other criticism would be the film's climax. Again I don't want to spoil anything, but we suddenly find Wichita and Little Rock forgetting what genre of film they are in, and doing things that are incredibly stupid. In fact, this whole sequence is full of stupid, illogical, and highly improbable events, although it would make for a fantastic “Left 4 Dead” level. You may find it helpful to simply ignore all of the logic flaws in the climax, because if you can do that the sheer amount of awesome in it are very rewarding.
“Zombieland” is a overly gory, foulmouthed, violent film that uses way too many slow motion shots, but it is also exciting, well acted, and incredibly funny. If you like zombie films, even if you dislike running zombies (or “zoombies”) like I do, you owe it to yourself to go see this movie in the theater. There is something about being in a group of people laughing and cheering that adds a lot to this raucous roller coaster ride.
If you like violent gory comedies, then you're going to love “Zombieland” when it infects theaters on October 2nd, just remember not to take it all too seriously. If you sit there trying to nitpick this movie, you'll just spoil it for yourself.
Check out ”Mallville – A Journal of the Zombie Apocalypse”, my free ongoing blognovel.