Zombieland (2009) dir. Ruben Fleischer
Starring: Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Abigail Breslin, Emma Stone, Bill Murray
By Alan Bacchus
We didn’t really need another self-aware zombie movie. How many times can we redo the same zombie splatter scenes, how many times can a zombie’s head explode before we cease to find it funny? Apparently there’s still more humour to mine from this subgenre. But Zombieland works because it’s barely a zombie movie. Using the familiar post-apocalyptic world of Night of the Living Dead/I Am Legend, director Ruben Fleischer and his screenwriters Rhett Reece and Paul Wernick craft a fun road trip flick with warm characters we want to spend our time with.
For some reason I had missed, all the characters are named after the cities they’re from. First there’s Columbus, a geeky, awkward, type-A Michael Cera type, played by the Cera-like Jesse Eisenberg. He provides the voiceover describing his movements around this wartorn world of zombies which have killed or converted most of the world’s population other than a few pockets of human remnants. Among them is Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), a Floridian gun totting hick who drives a surprisingly decent pickup truck, and who picks up Columbus wandering along an interstate. The two couldn’t be more different. Columbus has survived by adhering to his own set of zombie rules, which he describes to us in stylish flashbacks. Tallahassee lives by the seat of his pants, by instinct and always behind a doublebarrelled shotgun or a pair of John Woo-style pistols.
Their nemesis comes not in the form of zombies but a pair of spry and intelligent teenage con artist girls Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin). Distrustful of the men, the girls steal Tallahassee’s truck and kidnap them before eventually coming to trust them. Columbus, of course, develops a crush on Wichita who plays hard to get.
Their journey doesn’t seem to know where it’s going until it suddenly ends after a zombie shoot out in an abandoned amusement park. But not before the film’s most memorable scene involving a meet-up with actor Bill Murray in his LA home. Regardless of the ineffectual climax, the Bill Murray scenes are so delightful, the movie doesn’t need to go on after they leave his house.
Murray, in real life, is a notoriously difficult man to corral. And so the mere fact that he is in the film is a miracle not to mention playing a zombified version of himself and even donning Ghostbusters gear to play stream crossing with Woody Harrelson. His wicked dead pan wit bests any of the other gags in the film.
Zombieland also has a two good lead performances from Harrelson and Eisenberg to anchor the journey. I had never really liked Eisenberg in Adventureland, nor The Squid and the Whale, and even though it’s the third or fourth time round for the virginal paranoid anxiety role he feels genuine.
Breaking the film down, there’s not much actually going on the film. Other than the Bill Murray scenes, most of the memorable moments come from the title sequence and flashbacks. Luckily stylish excess is not only forgiven, but encouraged in the zombie genre and Fleischer admirably glosses up his rudimentary script with every stylish trick in the book to satisfying effect.