Rated R/88 min.
The idea of a zombie—a mindless, drooling cannibal that could have once been someone you love—is so ghastly, it’s no wonder it took filmmakers a while to develop a sense of humor about them. Now, four decades after George A. Romero’s still-disturbing Night of the Living Dead, we have Shaun of the Dead, Max Brook’s bestselling novel World War Z and Zombieland offering big laughs along with nightmarish visions of an apocalyptic future.
In a time close to the present, the upcoming movie 2012 is playing in an abandoned theater. Meanwhile, zombies have munched through most of mankind, with the last men standing being a nerdy but resourceful zombie killer (Jesse Eisenberg) and a gun-toting cowboy (Woody Harrelson) who loves blasting zombies as much as they crave human flesh. This unlikely duo comes across two surviving sisters (Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin) who give them comfort and a reason to stay alive.
Trailers for the movie have sold the action and violence, of which there is plenty, but I was taken aback by how enjoyable the characters are, how clever the screenplay is and how many scenes succeed at being simultaneously grisly and fall-down funny.
Inevitable comparisons to Shaun of the Dead and other cult-classic horror/comedies will be a sticking point fanboys (and girls). But, in terms of making you love the people on screen, providing genuine chills and big laughs and making you walk away giddy, I’d say this comes closest to the mother of all horror comedies, An American Werewolf in London. Other films have tackled this material, but Zombieland is its own beast, a movie that sounded like disposable garbage but is one of the nicest surprises of the year.
Part-time Maui guy Harrelson is a gifted actor who, like Johnny Depp, has a film career so eclectic, it’s impossible to typecast him. Here, he sinks his big choppers into a role that resembles a goofy cousin to Kurt Russell’s Escape From New York anti-hero, Snake Plissken.
Harrelson is so thrilling in the movie’s rousing carnival climax, I seriously wondered when I could get my hands on some Zombieland action figures. Eisenberg is well-regarded for his work in indie dramas but he’s great here. Stone, like Kat Dennings and Winona Ryder, is a thinking man’s dream girl. Then there’s the young Breslin, showing there’s life after Little Miss Sunshine, blasting the undead with a sawed off shotgun. Last but in no way least is the year’s best cameo by a major star. It’s so funny, I would never give it away.
This isn’t the first and won’t be the last of its kind but we’d be lucky if all zombie movies were this great. You can keep the gloomy, self-important 28 Days Later; I’ll take Harrelson wiping out a bone-cruncher with his car door any day. Maui Time Weekly, Barry Wurst II