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.