“Survival rule #21: Avoid strip clubs.”
Director: Ruben Fleischer
Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, Woody Harrelson
Synopsis: A shy student trying to reach his family in Ohio, a gun-toting tough guy trying to find the last Twinkie, and a pair of sisters trying to get to an amusement park join forces to travel across a zombie-filled America.
Described by its writers as Midnight Run with zombies, Ruben Fleischer’s Zombieland attempts to create a feel-good zombie flick by ignoring much of what we can assume would be the realities of life in a world over-run by the living dead: the zombies are pretty thin on the ground, the trashed traffic is light enough to provide atmosphere without really blocking the highways, and the power is still on after who knows how long. That doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty of blood and gore on offer to at least temporarily sate moviegoers’ apparently endless appetite for such, but it does leave Zombieland’s post-apocalyptic world lacking the kind of danger that should have its survivors living in a state of perpetual low-key terror.
The zombies in Zombieland are the result of patient zero eating a burger infected with mad cow disease. To quote Columbus (Jesse Eiesenberg — Adventureland, Now You See Me), our unlikely hero, ‘mad cow became mad person became mad zombie.’ And these are the fast-moving variety capable of sprinting after their prey. Which is why, as Columbus explains with irrefutable logic, fat people bought it first. Before the outbreak, Columbus is one of those saddos who spends more time interacting with fellow gamers over the internet than with people in the real world, but he soon adapts to sharing the world with zombies by devising a set of rules to follow in order to maximise his chances of survival. He’s on his way back to his hometown in the vain hope that his parents might somehow still be alive when we meet him, but on the way he makes the acquaintance of Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson — The Hunger Games, Out of the Furnace), a hard-bitten semi-psycho on the hunt for the country’s last twinkie, who views killing zombies as a kind of recreational sport.
Tallahassee’s obsessive quest for a twinkie takes the unlikely duo to a deserted supermarket where, after despatching the rather overweight zombies living there, they make the acquaintance of Wichita (Emma Stone — The Help, Gangster Squad) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin — Ender’s Game), two sisters who have put their pre-zombie career of grifting into good use in order to stay one step ahead of both human and undead predators. Wichita and Little Rock deftly trick Columbus and Tallahassee out of their weapons and vehicle and leave them stranded and defenceless, but it isn’t long before the two males catch up with their female counterparts.
Any pretence Zombieland might have had of depicting a realistic vision of life in a world occupied by zombies is more or less set aside when Columbus and Tallahassee, who, despite the latter’s hard man credentials, have to be two of the people most ill-equipped for post-apocalyptic survival you could ever hope to meet, run into the two sisters a second time. The girls are headed for Pacific Playground, an amusement park on the West Coast, and the men inevitably throw in their lot with them. It’s at this point, just as the action should be picking up, that things come to a thudding halt when the four of them decide to hole up in a former movie star’s mansion for a few days. In fact, not only does the movie almost fall flat on its face because it halts with such unexpected abruptness, it also grows increasingly silly when they find the former movie star still alive and well thanks to his tactic of making himself up to look like a zombie.
One of Zombieland’s influences is the British comedy horror Shaun of the Dead, but unfortunately a comparison of the two serves only to highlight more or less everything that is wrong with this movie. The humour in Zombieland is hit-and-miss at best, and poorly integrated with the film’s more dramatic aspects, while the quirky script works too hard at trying to be cool, and the situations faced by its characters have become over-familiar to anyone who’s watched more than a half-dozen or so of these kind of flicks. The actors try hard, and for the most part they acquit themselves well, with Eisenberg — surely the most un-movie-star-like movie star out there — perfectly cast as the hapless hero. But no amount of good acting can overcome a sub-standard script which has previously savvy characters inexplicably doing incredibly stupid things like powering up a fun fair in the dead of night. Sometimes the subject matter of a movie gives it a get-out-of-jail-free card when it comes to the logic of its plot, but human nature is human nature whatever the circumstances, and any movie in which its characters fail to adhere to a recognisable template is simply asking for trouble.