Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg Deliver Action, Laughs With Great ‘Zombieland’

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Average: 4.3 (7 votes)
HollywoodChicago.com Oscarman rating: 4.0/5.0
Rating: 4.0/5.0

CHICAGO – The horror/comedy “Zombieland” is one of the few 2009 films to honestly deserve the overused phrase “thrill ride.” From the opening shots to the best post-credits tag in years, “Zombieland” attempts nothing but pure fun and completely delivers.

The most flat-out enjoyable horror/comedy since “Shaun of the Dead,” and a film that deserves to stand just under if not next to that sub-genre masterpiece, “Zombieland” is destined to have a loyal cult following for years to come. But this is not just the product of midnight movie madness planners. “Zombieland” is the kind of film that could easily move beyond its genre fans and become a true crossover hit. You can keep your vampires, “Twilight” fans. At least until “New Moon” comes out, the zombies rule.

Woody Harrelson stars in Columbia Pictures' comedy ZOMBIELAND.
Woody Harrelson stars in Columbia Pictures comedy ZOMBIELAND.
Photo credit: Glen Wilson/Sony

With refreshingly little explanation as to why the world turned into something out of a George A. Romero movie, “Zombieland” stars Jesse Eisenberg as Columbus, so named because all major characters are simply referred to by their hometown, as if they are the only surviving member left from that city. Columbus is a neurotic, OCD-riddled, socially awkward young man who only gets the hot girl across the hall over on the night she happens to turn into a zombie.

Columbus has a series of rules, presented in narration and with spectacularly rendered title cards, for staying alive in a world over-run by brain-eaters. Most are variations on his OCD personality, something that it turns out can be very helpful after the zombies take over.

Columbus comes across the much-more-alpha male Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson) and the two form a perfect buddy comedy combo, arguably the most enjoyable oil-and-water duo of the year without overemphasizing their differences. Where Columbus keeps it all in, Tallahassee needs to let off steam every once in awhile, including bashing in car windows and devising new-and-inventive ways to splatter zombie brains. Where Columbus is scared, Tallahasse is more bored.

Jesse Eisenberg stars in Columbia Pictures' comedy ZOMBIELAND.
Jesse Eisenberg stars in Columbia Pictures comedy ZOMBIELAND.
Photo credit: Glen Wilson/Sony

Harrelson’s physical presence is a perfect counter to Eisenberg’s intellectual persona. The “Zombie Kill of the Day” scenes may get the fans jumping and clapping but it’s what the duo at the film’s core bring to the film that really makes it work.

Tallahassee and Columbus come across Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin), a pair of sisters heading west to a supposedly zombie-free amusement park. Like a twisted family off to visit Wally World, our four heroes speed off and “Zombieland” basically becomes a very unusual road movie.

The previews might make “Zombieland” look like a one-trick pony - a video-game level of zombie mayhem and destruction. There’s certainly an element of that and gorehounds won’t be disappointed by the increasingly clever action sequences, but it’s the characters that drive the piece. The quartet of great actors make these brilliantly drawn and balanced characters feel genuine and it becomes enjoyable just being in the car on this twisted road trip from Hell. By the time they get to the best cameo of the year (one that some have spoiled and now all feel is free to ruin but we’ll stay above that), we already like spending time with these people. Liking the heroes instead of just rooting on the villains is something that has been lost in an era of personality-less horror films like “Saw” and “Texas Chainsaw Massacre”.

Woody Harrelson stars in Columbia Pictures' comedy ZOMBIELAND.
Woody Harrelson stars in Columbia Pictures comedy ZOMBIELAND.
Photo credit: Glen Wilson/Sony

“Shaun of the Dead” made the brilliant third-act switch to actually turning into an effective horror film in the final act and I wish “Zombieland” had attempted to do a bit of that. There’s never any actual fear that our heroes might die, just that the next zombie death won’t be as interesting as the last. Consequently, the final act loses a bit of steam as it doesn’t really build as much as provide “more of the same” from the first two.

Perhaps more than any film this year, a sequel not only seems likely but necessary. This can’t be the end of the road for these fantastic characters and this just-being-developed world. It’s one of the biggest surprises of the year that a film called “Zombieland” ends up being one of the most truly alive movies of 2009.

‘Zombieland’ stars Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone, and Abigail Breslin. It was written by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick and directed by Ruben Fleischer. It opens on October 2nd, 2009. It is rated R.

HollywoodChicago.com content director Brian Tallerico

Content Director

kyle's picture

Check out Zombieland!

Check out Zombieland! The movie is good.

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