I'm sure some of you are belaboring under the delusion that I am a 'big fan' of the zombie subgenera. While I am genuinely appreciative of the various gifts and brik-a-brak that some of you may or may not have given me because you think I love zombies, the truth is that I'm incredibly picky about which zombie movies I love, particularly since we are suffering through a glut of zombie-related media. It seems you can't throw a rock and not hit one of these shambling menaces. To tell the truth, I only 'love' two zombie films - the original 1968 'Night of the Living Dead' and 2004's unrelentingly perfect 'Shaun of the Dead,' if anyone is keeping track - although I have a certain appreciation for sundry other examples in the subgenera - the original 1978 'Dawn of the Dead' comes to mind. I know I shouldn't love you; you insult my intelligence and belittle my taste, and yet...
So I guess it goes without saying that I came into last year's 'Zombieland' with some skepticism. I mean as far as zombie-related comedies go, 'Shaun of the Dead' was certainly the exception that proved the rule. It took the combined talent of Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and (not pictured) Edgar Wright to pull of the unprecedented mix of hilarity, poignancy and violence. If it took the combined Voltron-esque talent of that calibre to produce a zombie-comedy, what chance did shoe-gazer Jesse Eisenberg have? I saw the unfortunately-similarly-titled movie 'Adventureland' and hated it. And frankly, I was more than a little concerned that 'Zombieland' would quickly devolve into an example of the death-of-narrative-cinema, just showing clever kill after clever kill. What I didn't realize is that Woody Harrelson was swinging for the fences with this one. His manic 'Tallahassee' is like a previously-unknown loony-toon packing more heat than Yosamite Sam by a long shot. And it's not a stretch to say that Woody digs deep in this role with an emotional twinge that holds that note just long enough and then tosses out a fine 'Titanic' joke. Well-played, sir!Mr. Harrelson swinging for the aforementioned fences.
I was not displeased with the two female leads and, although the basic conception of their characters was refreshing, they were given surprisingly little to do, and in the end suffer from an unfortunate case of damsel-in-distress syndrome. Oh well.
Now the film deploys a number of tactical gambits which I imperfectly but not inaccurately will describe as 'gimmicks.' (They aren't 'gimmicky' per se but they are certainly not seamlessly integrated.) One is the appearance on-screen of the written text of a number of rules for surviving the zombie plague. The character of Jesse Eisenberg will relate these rules via a voice-over and the text will appear on screen. It's ironic, because my wife and I have been catching up on the JJ Abrams tv show 'Fringe' and one of the only real problems we have with the show is the appearance of 3D words hovering over the establishing shots describing the location. It's almost the same typeface used by 'Zombieland' and yet, I found it amusing in the movie. It was a small sign or indicator of the tone of 'Zombieland.' And I suppose that's the best I could say for this movie: don't over-think it. It's droll, a bit random, and good. Genuinely entertaining.
As for the other noticeable gimmick, the less you hear about it the better, suffice it to say it's an unexpected cameo. And it's comedy gold. "Whoa there, hold on. Is that hombre giving out spoilers to OUR movie?!?"
So there you go. It's a solid movie, well worth your time. Does it have much gore? No, not more than your average action movie. There is a bit of questionable content in the opening credits that nets the film it's 'R' rating (along with its proclivity for profanity) but it's an isolated incident and you ought not let it change your mind. Unless you like lady-zombies, in which case your mind oughta be changed, weirdo.
But if you're looking for a zombie drama, just as a last aside with regard to zombie media I do lovelovelove, I can't recommend Max Brooks' 'World War Z' highly enough. It's available in paperback and a smashing full-cast audiobook edition (featuring the talents of Mark Hamill and Henry Rollins. Together at last!) and, rumor has it Brad Pitt's production company has acquired the film rights, so get on-board now and tell your friends you read it first.Don't know why I should shill for amazon.com but click here to order the paperback. Best ten bucks you're gonna spend today.