Jesse Eisenberg (left) and Woody Harrelson star in Columbia Pictures' comedy ZOMBIELAND.

Jesse Eisenberg (left) and Woody Harrelson star in Columbia Pictures' comedy ZOMBIELAND.

The population having been afflicted by some variant of mad cow/people/zombie disease, even the President’s motorcade has been ransacked by flesh devouring Secret Service agents. Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), whose real name we don’t know, resides in Garland, Texas, in the midst of a zombie apocalypse. A lanky, curly-haired loner, he introduces us to a set of rules that he’s adopted since his next-door neighbor in apartment 604 turned just in time to deprive him of first base. He has phobias, irritable bowel syndrome, and a Michael Cera-esque talent for yammering on tangentially about whatever strikes his mind. Columbus also has a predilection toward hair stroking—lacking only a permitting woman.

The iconic close-up of the boot landing on pavement from the opening door of a Cadillac Escalade introduces us to the rough-and-tumble Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), so named as Columbus for his intended destination. Tallahassee misses only a pup named Buck and the once-ubiquitous snack product known as Twinkies. The two become partners, since there’s hardly anyone left to partner with, except a feisty Wichita (Emma Stone) and a precocious gunslinging twelve-year old, Little Rock (Abigail Breslin)—sisters. Their destination is Pacific Playland just outside Los Angeles. It’s rumored to be a zombie-free zone. We have our doubts.

The two pairs take turns as the world’s stupidest zombie hunters. For all their skill and machismo—well, Tallahassee’s—they repeatedly get bamboozled by the girls. Approaching their vehicle, stolen and abandoned by the girls, he totes a shotgun at waist level when he should be aiming it. For all their ingenuity at entrapment, having once snared a gas station attendant in an advance fee scam involving fake jewelry, Wichita commits a gross error flipping on lights which invariably attract zombies. Tallahassee mentors Little Rock’s marksmanship and Wichita educates Columbus in the art of romance over a bottle of 1997 wine. I felt my age creeping up on me like a flesh-eating virus when Wichita mentioned that was the year she first saw an R-rated movie. For the record, I saw the equally splatter-happy Robocop at age 12 in 1987. I think I turned out rather well.

The film involves such gratuitous, juicy spatter, Dexter Morgan would have a field day. It isn’t worth analyzing in any academic sense. It’s a zombie movie. Zombies get whacked, hacked, shot and driven over—twice for good measure. At eighty minutes, the movie is the appropriate length for action-heavy filler—the journey to California keeping characters and story in constant motion. This, and the fact that the zombies are largely devoid of human idiosyncrasies or personalities, as in the satirical Shaun of the Dead, set Zombieland back toward the heyday of Romero where zombies were mindless, listless creatures and the story consisted chiefly of knocking them down one limb at a time. In that regard, it’s rather good popcorn entertainment… if you don’t mind the overt product endorsements.

Bonus: A cameo by the comically-gifted Bill Murray. In the labyrinth of his gargantuan Beverly Hills mansion, he feigns undeath because zombies don’t eat each other (why not?), and he happened to have a good make-up artist. I don’t want to spoil what goes on during his brief appearance, but I am guessing that the parting shot was his own idea.

Zombieland • Dolby® Digital surround sound in select theatres • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 • Running Time: 80 minutes • MPAA Rating: R for horror violence/gore and language. • Distributed by Columbia Pictures

Dolby and the double-D symbol are registered trademarks of Dolby Laboratories.

  • Max Einhorn

    I strongly disagree that this film isn’t worth analyzing in an academic sense. Yes, it’s a zombie movie. Zombie movies are a genre in themselves and are eligible for review just like any other type of film. Like most films it has characters and a story. What sets it apart from most narratives besides the walking undead? Would you not review Night of the Living Dead because it’s a zombie movie even though it’s a ground-breaking film and the commentaries are a topic covered by college professors? I challenge you to write a real review.

    • Max, I think you misunderstand my remark. Academic dissection incorporates things like scene composition analysis, application of writing theory, etc. Night of the Living Dead, like George A. Romero’s other films, is more than just a zombie film. There’s social commentary there, other layers to analyze. When I say an academic analysis isn’t warranted here, I speak specifically of Zombieland which, despite returning us to slow, hobbling flesh eaters of a bygone era, doesn’t aim to be more than a splatter/comedy flick. I did analyze it to the extent warranted by its content.