07 October 2009

"I've got nothing."

The trailer for Zombieland didn't look very promising to me, but a bevy of good reviews from sources I normally trust and/or can gauge fairly well led me to see the film. It was a Monday night, I needed something lightweight, and The Invention of Lying didn't have any major cameos people were salivating to spoil. Zombieland it was. It proved to be disappointingly mediocre. It's far too good natured and easygoing to be called "bad," but I felt a keen frustration throughout; there is so much potential in the set-up and characters, yet all it ends up being is a lackluster road movie where everyone learns a goddamn lesson. For a film that frequently espouses its tagline, "Nut up or shut up," Zombieland has a notable lack of balls. I should have known to consult with the dourly incisive crew at Slant before popping off to the theater.

Zombieland is easily distinguishable from other zombie movies because of its notable lack of zombies. Except for the opening credits, a few strays who pop up to demonstrate the lead character's rules for survival (a promising bit swiped from The Zombie Survival Guide that isn't explored near enough), and the ending, where zombies are required so the heroes can save the haven't-been-dumb-yet-but-now-are-for-some-reason damsels in distress, the undead remain curiously at the corners of the film's world. They are never a threat, and at a certain point we realize that the characters will make it through unscathed, so there is no tension, no scares, no sense of horror underlying the uninspired comedy. We never feel that anything is at stake (how can there be when everyone has unlimited ammo, except when the script requires otherwise?), and so don't become drawn to the characters.

The characters also don't really carry around any of the problems that a person in a post-apocalyptic environment would have. Rather, they're beset with tired tropes straight out of the screenwriter's handbook: Jesse Eisenberg has to learn how to man up and be a hero (conquering a forced and tacked-on phobia of clowns in the process), while Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin's con artists must overcome their paranoia toward their fellow humans. It all ends pretty much how you expect it to. Woody Harrelson's ass kicker holds the potential to be more interesting, but he's the one person who doesn't get a lengthy, unnecessary flashback to his pre-zombie life (save for a few flashes that don't build his character so much as beg you to love him). On second thought, maybe that's why he's the person I most liked hanging out with.

It's all performed with enough competence and zest that we hope the characters reach their expected conclusions. The movie probably plays best in an audience packed with the sort of nerds who can readily identify with Eisenberg's character and delight in Harrelson's antics (yes, I am normally that type of nerd), or on a lazy hangover weekend when you stumble across it while clicking channels. Otherwise? Go back to Shaun of the Dead.

I've deliberately resisted writing about the one truly inspired scene until the end of this review, so all of you who want to avoid SPOILERS should bail now, even though I won't reveal quite everything about it.

The highly vaunted cameo in the middle of the film was the only sequence that had me cracking up. Some of it, as Slant points out, is easy, lazy humor, but I laughed nonetheless, especially at the celebrity's brutally accidental dispatching at Eisenberg's nervous hands and the guiltless, shrugged off aftermath. It was gruesome, morbid, and utterly hysterical. It felt like a scene from another, better film, one that had a few more balls than Zombieland. Perhaps the inevitable sequel will follow through on its nutting up promise.


  1. Nice review -- I saw the film this past weekend, myself. For me, it was one of the better zombie films I've seen. Now, one must remember that I own over 300 zombie films on VHS and close to 250 on DVD (yeah, there are that many, and more I have yet to get my hands on).

    Nowadays, it's almost IMPOSSIBLE to create a zombie flick - which follows the zombie 'rules' - and pull it off... especially when it's a Zomedie. Too many have tried and failed miserabley, so I am always delighted when one can make me laugh (even though I prefer straight-up horror in my zombie films).

    It's almost made me not want to make a zombie film, as of late, with all of the flicks popping up here and there (and on YouTube)...


  2. Apparently it's lack of real drive comes from the fact it's a repackaged pilot for a TV series instead of a feature. Sequels away!