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'Zombieland' may not match the classic 'Shaun of the Dead,' but it's sure entertaining

The world is overtaken by a zombie plague, and a ragtag team of human survivors heads for the West Coast in Zombieland, the latest movie to use the undead for laughs.

Thankfully, the cast features an amped-up Woody Harrelson and a gracefully neurotic Jesse Eisenberg, a comic team that balances out quite nicely. Throw in some decent hard-core zombie gore, and you get something that is a hell of a lot better than that last George Romero disaster, Diary of the Dead.

Eisenberg plays Columbus, a nebbish college student trying to head home and find his family after the zombie attack. He's not particularly fond of his relatives, but he's an introverted guy with nowhere else to go after the apocalypse. Acknowledging through a voiceover that he's an unlikely candidate for zombie survival, he lists his simple keys to death-avoidance in the film's beginning minutes, dispensing such pearls of wisdom as, "Buckle up!" and, "Double tap" (put an extra bullet in a zombie just to be sure).

Columbus crosses paths with Tallahassee (Harrelson), an alpha-male, cowboy-hat-wearing, Twinkie-loving crazy bastard who lets him ride along in his Cadillac Escalade. During a supermarket stop in search of the infamous Hostess treats, a couple of sly sisters (Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin) carjack them and leave the pair for dead. Inevitably, the four cross paths again and head west toward an amusement park where it's rumored that other human survivors frolic.

While the film loses some steam before its lackluster amusement-park ending, there are enough laughs and old-fashioned zombie kills to keep even the most casual fans of the horror-comedy genre happy. It doesn't hurt that Harrelson is at the top of his game here, and that Zombieland features a cameo that would earn instant induction into the Cinematic Cameo Hall of Fame, if such an establishment actually existed.

Amusing sequences include Amber Heard as 406 (named after her apartment number), who we see in a flashback. She has a touching moment, falling asleep in virgin Columbus' arms after narrowly escaping a zombie bite ... or so she claims. However, the moment involving the aforementioned cameo is the highlight of the movie. (Do not look at the cast list online or do any Google searches. Go to the movie, and allow yourself to be surprised by the cameo!)

The film will draw plenty of comparisons to the far-superior Shaun of the Dead, the close-to-perfect Simon Pegg horror-comedy that one-upped the likes of Sam Raimi's Evil Dead II. Shaun was a tribute to Romero zombie films (well, the good ones) in which the undead lumbered along and captured far-quicker humans for intestine buffets. Zombieland is more of a poke at latter-day zombie films: The zombies are the fast-running, screaming kind, like those in Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later. While Shaun has that dry British wit, Zombieland goes for the more sophomoric punch of a piano landing on a zombie's head. (I'm realizing Zombieland has more in common with the 1985 comedy The Return of the Living Dead than Shaun. That's not necessarily a bad thing.)

Like some other zombie films looking for laughs, Zombieland makes the wise decision to treat its gore and scares seriously. The movie has some good jolts and enough "yuck" moments to qualify it as a legitimate horror film, too.

It's also a pretty effective advertisement for Twinkies. I haven't had one of those things in years, but I kind of want one now.

Zombieland
Rated R · 87 minutes · 2009
User Rating:
Official Site: www.zombieland.com
Director: Ruben Fleischer
Producer: Gavin Polone, Ezra Swerdlow, Paul Wernick, Rhett Reese and Ryan Kavanaugh
Cast: Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, Abigail Breslin, Amber Heard, Bill Murray and Derek Graf

More by Bob Grimm

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What others are saying (8)

Chicago Reader Savage Love: October 15, 2009 A fitness nut with a feeder fetish; would it be OK to bonk a zombie; and more by Dan Savage 10/15/2009
Colorado Springs Independent Brain food The flesh-eating undead are not, understandably, every movie-goer's taste. But this time, skipping the latest zombie flick will mean missing what may be the funniest American comedy of 2009. by Scott Renshaw 10/01/2009
Portland Mercury Splatstick Zombieland is alive and kicking! by Andrew Wright 10/01/2009
5 more reviews...
Charleston City Paper This year gave us a host of great films — one even had zombies In many areas, 2009 sucked profoundly — bad economy, bickering health-scare debate, the Yankees winning the World Series again. But at the movies, things were much better. In some years, the last couple of films on my top 10 list just fill out space; in 2009, I agonized over terrific films that didn't quite make the cut. If you're looking for entertainment or dramatic tension over the next few months, your Netflix queue could be an embarrassment of riches. by Scott Renshaw 12/30/2009
Colorado Springs Independent Opening this week Fame, My One and Only, Surrogates and more. 09/24/2009
The Coast Halifax Zombieland brainless fun Will Jesse Eisenberg’s career relegated to playing neurotic 20-something virgins in movies with the suffix “-land”? by Mark Palermo 10/08/2009
Charleston City Paper Zombieland feels like Ferris Bueller's Day of the Dead Zombieland shares a sensibility that should be familiar to video gamers. It aims for as high a body count as possible, all in an exploration of the maximum number of ways that the bodies of the living dead can be reduced to jelly. by Felicia Feaster 09/30/2009
Colorado Springs Independent Opening this week Bright Star, Capitalism: A Love Story, The Invention of Lying and more. 10/01/2009

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