The Collegian
Saturday, July 04, 2020

Featured Flick: Zombieland

The zombie genre, a tradition that had been left for dead, has seen quite a revival during recent years. But these are not the same zombies movie-goers first witnessed in movies like George Romero's 1970 film, "Dawn of the Dead." Rather, the conventions of the genre have been parodied and re-invented during the past couple of years thanks to the 2004 camp classic, "Shaun of the Dead." This film was revolutionary because it gave us the notion of the running zombie. This was the watershed moment in the current revival, as many films have since reveled in the idea of giving their antagonists the instincts and dexterity of an African gazelle. "Shaun" was a movie that provided the requisite gore to elicit laughter as only the Brits can do. Gone were the dated politics and the heavy-handed critique of consumerist America, replaced instead with heavy doses of irony and humor. Some have even dared to call these newer flicks "postmodern," but I have ethical reservations with categorizing a zombie movie as such ...

So along comes "Zombieland," director Ruben Fleischer's neat little 84-minute entry into the zombie pantheon. Although the film doesn't really try to scare its audience in the same way as its predecessors, what it lacks for in scares it makes up for in sheer hilarity. Fortunately, zombie purists need not worry because Fleischer still relishes in the slow-motion rendering of human flesh (there are several wonderful close-ups of our favorite sullen-eyed brutes chowing down on any number of human delicacies). But ultimately, the humor of "Zombieland" isn't rooted in the absurdity of the situation or the camp violence, but rather in a terrific script that, dare I say it, borders on the postmodern (there is a particularly funny joke about Purell that perfectly describes what I am talking about).

The film's premise is this: After a pandemic of Mad Cow Disease (although the Swine Flu would have worked just fine), America has been overrun by those familiar flesh-starved maniacs. This is a world in which the simple act of going to the grocery store becomes an exercise in counter-insurgency. The film's protagonist, Columbus (played by Jesse Eisenberg with the same kind of deer-in-the-headlights sensibility that made Michael Cera famous), is the token loser, the character who suffers from that familiar problem of a youth wasted on the "World of Warcraft." Now completely alone, Columbus manages to stay alive by adhering to his own rigid set of post-apocalyptic rules. These include carrying a loaded shotgun into the restroom because naturally, zombies love to prey on the unsuspecting potty patron.

As Columbus plans to trek back east in hopes of finding one of the last places devoid of zombies, he picks up an uzi-wielding, red-neck, road warrior named Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson). Harrelson does some fine character acting, sarcastically delivering one-liners while ritualistically mowing over zombies in his Cadillac Escalade. Along the way the two meet up with Wichita and Little Rock, a tenacious sister act played by Emma Stone from "Superbad" and Abigail Breslin from "Little Miss Sunshine." After some initial trust issues, the four form a kind of oddball nuclear family and plan to head to California - Hollywood to be exact - the proverbial shining city on the hill, the one place supposedly free of zombies. Unfortunately, all that glitters isn't exactly gold.

The movie has some particularly funny moments but none better than a hilarious extended cameo after the foursome reaches the west coast. If you plan on seeing this movie, I would implore you to refrain from going online and spoiling the genuine surprise. The sequence provides a hilarious jest at celebrity culture and Hollywood narcissism and in the humble opinion of this critic, puts Tom Cruise's turn as fat bastard Les Grossman in "Tropic Thunder" to shame.

With regards to the final showdown, it isn't quite the epic bloodbath we expect (although there are some welcome and creative additions to the "zombie kill" library). Yes, the romance between Columbus and Wichita is completely ham-fisted. But in the end, "Zombieland" outlives its shortcomings to achieve a lofty place in the zombie firmament.

Contact Collegian reporter Greg Montine at greg.montine@richmond.edu

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