Sunday, August 8, 2010

Zombies in the Mist

End of the world zombie comedy? No thanks, I already saw Shaun of the Dead.

That's what I thought last summer, anyway, when Zombieland took number one at the box office and went on to become the most successful zombie movie ever. Despite the success, and despite the stellar reviews it received, I was not very enthusiastic about seeing the movie in the theaters. When Shaun of the Dead came out back in 2004, it was the critic's darling. All the reviewers loved it, and it seemed like everyone I knew, whether fans of zombie movies or just movie fans in general, would shout from the rooftops about how great this movie was. So finally I relented, but instead of this fantastic film that would be worthy of such praise, my response? "Meh."

It wasn't that I thought the movie was bad. On the contrary, I thought it was very clever, with some outrageously funny moments. It seemed to carry a good balance between respecting the source material while at the same time parodying it's cultural commentaries. I simply thought that the film didn't live up to the hype put upon me by people who seemed to think it was the best movie that came out that year. It's the reason I still haven't seen Hot Fuzz despite actually wanting to see it at some point. And it's why I waited almost a year to see Zombieland, despite much interest I had in the Woody Harrelson-fronted film about surviving after the worst has come to be.

The narrative for Zombieland is told by Jesse Eisenberg's character, called Columbus. Columbus is a college student who has managed to survive the zombie apocalypse by following his thirty-three rules of life, many of which somehow translate perfectly into surviving zombie attacks or surviving in Zombieland altogether. Some, like Cardio (1), Wear Seatbelts (4), and the Buddy System (29) make sense in real life as well as the endtimes. Eisenberg is headed cross-country to his hometown of Columbus where he hopes to find his family and see if his home survived what has happened to the rest of the world, despite not having been very close to his family to begin with. On the way, he encounters Talahassee (Harrelson), a somewhat crazy survivor who has made a business out of killing the undead, and to hear him put it, "Business is good!" Not only is Talahassee two cans short of a six pack, but he's on a peculiar quest to find Twinkies: "not just any box of Twinkies, the last box of Twinkies that anyone will enjoy in the whole universe. Believe it or not, Twinkies have an expiration date. Some day very soon, Life's little Twinkie gauge is gonna go... empty." Despite each of their eccentricities, the two decide to team up, if at least for the short term, and their chemistry and scenes together often make for the most enjoyable parts of the movie, as each mocks the other with mutual respect as fellow survivors would.

Before too long, the duo meet up with the sister con-girls Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin), who manage to rob and abandon them multiple times over the course of the film. The sisters are on their way to Pacific Playland, a California amusement park, where it's rumored that there are no zombies. Wichita merely wants Little Rock to be able to have fun at least once in a world where zombies are pretty much the dominant species. And so the sisters team up with our heroes, if only so long as to reach the park.

That's the plot in a nutshell, and though it's weak and nothing to write home about, it's fine because the movie is buoyed by it's characters and acting. Eisenberg (Who had a breakout year with this and his summer comedy Adventureland) is perfect as the neurotic Columbus, not only in his deadpan narration and comedy timing, but also in his body language, which manages to properly convey his fear and his incredulity to the situations in which he finds himself. But he's got nothing on Harrelson, who had some unique conditions for signing onto the project (including ecologically-friendly sets and director Ruben Fleischer not consuming dairy for a week) and proved he was worth it, putting together a kick-ass performance in which he owns every scene and makes this Twinkie-hunting, zombie-killing maniac believable and sympathetic. Who can say 2009 wasn't his year, as in addition to this film, he had a notable role in the action film 2012 and an Oscar-nominated one for The Messenger. Emma Stone may be known to most as Jonah Hill's romantic interest in the 2007 film Superbad, and while she is fine as older sister and con-woman Wichita, she's up at the same level as the other people in the cast. Abigail Breslin may be forever identified as Little Miss Sunshine, but she still does an amazing job here as the smart but still incredibly and impressionably young Little Rock. She outperforms everyone in her scenes, with the notable exception of Harrelson.

Although the movies does have problems, they are mostly trivial and don't overly affect the enjoyment of the film. Mostly, they are continuity errors, far too many to account for in print. Fortunately, IMDB maintains an extensive list of them, if you wanted to check them. Most of these could have been avoided, and can likely be attributed to the inexperience of director Ruben Fleischer and his crew, whether by haste or just plain error. . Obviously, if this movie had been made with a more experienced crew, perhaps these errors could have been avoided. Oh, well, woulda, coulda, shoulda.

I went into this film with no expectations and little idea as to the plot of the film, but even if I had, I'm not sure it would have altered the level of enjoyment I had during it's viewing. For a horror comedy, Zombieland doesn't skimp on the blood, gore and special effects, and manages that perfect balance of respecting the original source material while parodying it perfectly to fit the story. It's easily the best zombie film I've seen since Zack Snyder's 2004 Dawn of the Dead, and I'd heavily recommend to anyone interested in the genre as a humorous aside to the more serious Romero flicks. Toss in a hilarious cameo from one of the funniest actors alive, gut-wrenching laughs and more zombies than you can unload a shotgun at, and you've got one of the few movies from last year that I'd watch again and again without hesitation.


steve said...

Bravo! Boy, you have such a WELCOMING narrative voice!

But I have a question: these many little plot inconsistencies you mention, the ones dutifully logged by IMDB? Are any of them sufficiently prominent so that if you were, say, the type of moviegoer whose experience can be ruined by such things, it would ruin that experience? I mean, you were in it for Woody Harrelson and it sounds like he didn't disappoint - but what about the people who are just a little bit more ... nit-picky? Say, the kind of person who left the theater after "Die Hard" actually BOTHERED by the famous missing wristwatch? Will these plot wrinkles make "Zombieland" unwatchable, for those people?

Gianni said...

Some things were noticeably ridiculous - Wichita's magically reloading shotgun, for instance - but most of the things mentioned as goofs I didn't catch in my viewing, so small were the inconsistencies. I didn't think these things detracted from the fun I had watching the movie, but results may vary.

To answer your question... I don't... know?