I don't know if any zombie comedy will ever match the scattershot social comment and sublime Brit-wit of Shaun of the Dead. But in its hyperactive American way, the hilarious killfest Zombieland comes very close.
Makers of zombie movies have long ago been freed from the need for exposition.
They're zombies, okay?
All you need to know is whether they're old-school slow zombies (in which case you better walk faster) or those newfangled sprinting zombies (in which case, unless you're in a car or you're Usain Bolt, you're pretty much done).
In fact, the first scene that explains the Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) rules of survival in Zombieland, shows how slow-moving fat guys are the first to die ("Zombieland Rule #1: Cardio").
Indeed, everything about Zombieland says "fast."
Look no further than the Dale Earnhardt #3 that zombie-killer Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson) sports on the door of his jalopy.
When we meet teen geek Columbus, he's making his own tenuous way with his wits back to his Ohio hometown, in hopes that it survived the zombie apocalypse. (Nobody in Zombieland has a name, just a destination). His fateful meeting with the Twinkie-addicted redneck Tallahassee completes the equation of brains-plus-brawn-equals-dead-zombies.
It also makes for great, natural comic chemistry. Tallahassee is dumb as a post, like Harrelson's Woody from Cheers with 'roid rage. Columbus is smart, unless he's in the presence of a female, in which case his I.Q. drops by half.
Enter two young con-artist sisters Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin), who out-wit our boys more than once and make it look easy. Inevitably, the pairs of antagonists are going to combine forces, but watching them clash when they should be watching for zombies is part of the fun.
They are indeed a foursome when Zombieland unfurls its big "surprise" -- a fairly-lengthy cameo appearance by an uncredited Hollywood personality that injects the movie with ironic cred. I won't say more on pain of living-death, but suffice to say it's a cool, hilarious cameo and worth the price of admission.
It's also one of the few moments the movie stops to take a breath. But each of those moments is well-used. The relationship between Columbus and Wichita develops fairly seamlessly, Eisenberg's nebbish and Stone's dismissive wisegal have a light, romantic chemistry that seems almost believable within the crazed context of the movie.
Irony is the slim dividing line between Zombieland and Shaun of the Dead, although Zombieland makes up the difference with heart-pumping adrenaline.
Zombieland's ironic content consists almost entirely of pop-culture references -- Tallahassee's Twinkie jones, the girls' obsession with reaching L.A., home to a Disneyland-like theme park that represents their happiest childhood memories.
But hell, maybe I'm thinking too much about all this.
The word "roller coaster" gets used a lot in reference to action films, but director Ruben Fleischer earns every amusement park ride metaphor with his use of colour and pacing.
This is one wild ride, cobbled together from bits and pieces of rides we've been on before, and plugged into a 220-volt outlet.
(This film is rated 14-A)
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