fri 19/07/2019

Zombieland | reviews, news & interviews

Zombieland

Zombieland

Woody Harrelson and Jesse Eisenberg batter cannibals for the grosser good

Jesse Eisenberg and friend in 'Zombieland'

About three minutes in, Zombieland is shaping up to be quite the spewiest film in the history of Technicolor. While the lopped-limb count is also off the chart, the litrage-to-frame ratio of mewl and puke, of gump and vom and spurting, gushing intestinal bile sets new parameters for an opening sequence. We begin, in short, in medias res. Has any movie ever so totally shot its wad before you've even dipped a fist in your popcorn? (Apart from Saving Private Ryan, obviously.)

Welcome to the post-apocalyptic wasteland that is zombiefied America, terrorised by marauding undead feasting lustily on live flesh. Could this be some kind of high-concept critique on the parlous moral state of the Land of the Free, ruled by the holy trinity of guns, greed and porno frat parties? Er, not as such. If it’s social commentary you’re after, suggest you go through some other portal in the multiplex.

So anyway, America has succumbed to the eponymous infestation – don’t ask how, it just has (although mad cow disease is mentioned in dispatches). Only the lonely are left, principally a weedy geeky student type called Columbus, named after the town he’s from (Jesse Eisenberg), who has avoided becoming zombie food by applying basic rules for survival which flash up in witty computer graphics. They involve splendidly nerdy advice like staying fit (it doesn’t pay to be a tubster in Zombieland) and buckling up your seat belt. And of course, careful avoidance of heroism.

Out on the road Columbus pairs up with Tallahassee in the welcome shape of Woody Harrelson, operating here in full redneck mode. Harrelson has been Hollywood’s go-to gunk-for-brains numbskull since he played a half-witted barman with the same name in Cheers. That general ancestry is nicely cited the moment he enters a supermarket and summons his prey with a few notes from the duelling banjos scene in Deliverance. Not that there isn’t refinement to characterisation. “I hate coconut,” he yells prissily. “Not the taste: the consistency.”

Zombieland could have been just another classic action-comedy odd-couple road movie with additional dead people. You’ve already got the T-shirt: neurotic virgin dork buddies up with pistol-whipping psycho hardass. But then they get duped by a couple of girls. Twice. It looks for a moment as if the script is going to deliver a satisfying running joke in the style of Midnight Run, in which the thick bounty hunter is always being bested by Robert De Niro’s clever one. But there is a common enemy after all, and with only four speaking characters in the main plot (there are also some bravely random flashbacks), the script kind of needs them to get along.

For a while, as they proceed west towards a theme park rumoured to be zombie-free, it even looks as if the film wants you to take it seriously. Harrelson weeps for his lost son, for goodness’s sake, although then he goes and spoils it all. “I haven’t cried like that since Titanic," he bawls. When it’s being funny, Zombieland knows where it’s heading, and everyone performs their part well (the sisters are ballsily played by Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin who, last seen stealing the show out on the road in Little Miss Sunshine, must have got back in the car and thought she'd been cast in Groundhog Day.)

There is in fact a fifth character, who for spoiler-alert reasons is not named in the opening credits (pictured above with Harrelson) and in a wonderfully knowing cameo he sends himself up to the hilt. “You probably get this all the time,” says Harrelson paying homage. Then adds, “Maybe not lately.” It suffices to quote said star’s answer when asked if he has any regrets. “Garfield, maybe?” First-time director Ruben Fleischer is, we can safely assume from the litany of in-jokes, handy on film-quiz night.

Round about two-thirds of the way through you may wonder where all the zombies went. Zombieland comes up short in the titular department. You could pick further holes. It’s uneven as hell, the characters are not (so to speak) fleshed out, it can't quite be bothered to work up a romantic subplot etc etc. As for the ending, don't get me started. In fact I don’t think they really got started themselves. A little piece of your brain will be eaten alive if you see this film. So leave it behind, but do go and see it.

Add comment

Subscribe to theartsdesk.com

Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £3.95 per month or £30 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take an annual subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?

newsletter

Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters