Directed By: Ruben Fleischer
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, Woody Harrelson
Tag line: "This place is so dead"
Trivia: Woody Harrelson was arrested for marijuana possession during filming, which delayed shooting for a day
If I were to compile a list of the greatest zombie comedies ever made, I can tell you without hesitation that Edgar Wright’s 2004 masterpiece Shaun of the Dead would be at the top of it. And while there would definitely be some competition for the remaining slots (titles like Re-Animator, Return of the Living Dead, Peter Jackson’s Dead Alive, and Cemetery Man leap to mind), odds are 2009’s Zombieland would easily capture the second spot. A witty, occasionally frightening look at four people dealing with a zombie outbreak, Zombieland is a briskly paced film that also features one of the best star cameos in recent memory.
The socially awkward Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), named after the town in Ohio he hails from, has managed to survive the zombie apocalypse by adhering to a handful of personal rules (such as “Never trust a bathroom” and “Always check the car’s back seat”). While traveling east through Texas (he’s on his way home to see if any family members survived), Columbus meets up with Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), a foul tempered zombie hunter searching for the world’s last remaining Twinkies snack cake. Seeing as they’re going in the same direction, the two decide to keep each other company. Their luck runs out, however, when they encounter sisters Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin), a pair of con artists who steal the boys’ weapons before driving off in Tallahassee’s car. But fate intervenes, and before long all four have teamed up and are heading west, hoping to find paradise in California by way of the Pacific Playland Amusement Park, situated just outside Hollywood. But is that area truly “zombie free”, as Wichita claims, or will they be greeted by an army of undead the moment they reach their destination?
Despite the fact its primarily a comedy, Zombieland doesn’t shy away from the blood and gore that usually goes hand-in-hand with the zombie subgenre; the opening title sequence shows us a number of violent encounters between the living and the undead (all played out in slow-motion), and the flashbacks that reveal the origins of some of Columbus’s “rules for survival” are surprisingly brutal (when discussing his second rule, “Double Tap”, he tells the story of a woman who shot a zombie rushing towards her, only to have her foot chewed off because she didn’t finish the job by putting another bullet in its head ). The movie’s real strength, though, is its characters. Jesse Eisenberg’s Columbus (who also acts as the film’s narrator) is a nebbish loser specializing in sarcasm, most of which is aimed at his abrasive cohort Tallahassee, easily the funniest of the bunch, who enjoys letting off steam once in a while (one great scene has him convincing Columbus, Wichita, and Little Rock to join him in trashing a roadside store selling Native American trinkets). Rounding out the group are sisters Wichita and Little Rock, expertly portrayed by two of the hottest young actresses working today: Emma Stone (Easy A, The Amazing Spider Man) and Abigail Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine, Haunter). The give-and-take between the four main characters is often hilarious, and in the film’s quieter moments we even learn a thing or two about them (including why Tallahassee lives life as if he has nothing left to lose).
All this, plus a touching romantic subplot involving Columbus and Wichita and a brilliant cameo by Bill Murray (playing himself), helped make Zombieland the most entertaining “zomedy” of the post-Shaun of the Dead era.