zombielandWithin the first minute, I knew I was going to like Zombieland. Five minutes later, during the Metallica accompanied opening credits, I suspected I was going to love it. I so enjoy being right.

Quite naturally, the storyline of most zombie flicks tend to fall into seige and survival territory and, of course, there are large aspects of that here. The last fifteen minutes are pretty much exclusively that. But while, Shaun of the Dead managed to introduce a buddy angle to the formula and arguably invent the hybrid genre of zom-rom-com, Zombieland introduces the notion of a zombie road trip movie, so in amongst all the stock baggage of the genre, it still manages to feel new.

Incidentally, it’s a horror-comedy with the strong emphasis on comedy. Don’t go expecting your stomach to be churned or your skin to provide a platform for jumping. It’s sorta nasty in places and kinda gory in others, but it’s far, far funnier than it is either of those things. A stoned Bill Murray reinacting a scene from Ghostbusters with a vacuum cleaner had me laughing so hard, I might have farted a little bit.

The storyline is thankfully kept free of complication. Two mismatched survivors of the zombie apocalypse team up to travel cross-country in search of something they can call home, preferably sans-zombie. Jesse Eisenburg plays Columbus (because he’s heading for Columbus, Ohio) and Woody Harrelson plays Tallahassee (for similar reasons). Columbus has survived thus far by living his life according to some strict rules: cardio, fasten seatbelts, don’t be a hero, check bathrooms etc. Tallahassee basically just really, really enjoys killing zombies. It isn’t long into proceedings before our little band are joined by a sister con team of Emma “Wichita” Stone and Abigail “Little Rock” Breslin, two becomes four and we’re heading for fun and games in an amusement park in LA.

The zombies, in this outing, are of the running / jumping / climbing trees variety a la the 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead, with a notable difference being that here, they aren’t strictly speaking undead, but rather the victims of a 28 Days Later style virus that originated with an infected burger. There’s an unexplored nod to The Stand here that’s only cough-and-you’ll-miss-it mentioned, and while it’s no great loss as the movie is far happier focussing on the effect rather than the cause, the fact that it’s been thought about and considered is very welcome.

Performances all round are excellent. Woody Harrelson reprises his redneck role from Natural Born Killers and he hasn’t been funnier since Kingpin. His character is simply about killing zombies but his little subplot of tracking down some Twinkie bars (“Twinkies have expiry dates, you know”) and those loved-ones he misses from his old life adds substance and flesh to the character. The greatest compliment I can pay is that I missed him when he wasn’t on screen.

His co-star Eisenberg is new to me, but he has instant likeable, geek charm that seems strangely familiar for ten seconds before you realise why. He looks like Michael Cera. He talks like Michael Cera. His lines sounded like they were written for Michael Cera. All this made me wonder, that while the Columbus role is filled very comfortably indeed, why the makers didn’t russle up another few thousand bucks and hire Cera. All this is further confused by Emma Stone’s involvement, given they were both in Superbad.

Without giving too much away, though, a sizable chunk of the middle act belongs to a cameo from Bill Murray, who plays himself. Bill Murray, in my humble opinion, operates on genius level in everything I’ve seen him in (although, in Zombieland, he questions the merit of his role in Garfield) and it was during the section filmed in his supposed mansion that I realised how much I was enjoying these characters and the world they inhabited.

And it’s a world that’s shot and framed very well and interspersed with post modern captions reminding us of Columbus’s all-important rules, in a font that looks straight out of the videogame TOCA Race Driver. Net effect is the somewhat stock, grey, washed out atmosphere of the early parts of the film still manage to feel very 2009 and fresh. Sprinkle in some inobtrusive CGI and super-slo-mo here and there, and it’s something of a treat to look at, particularly with all the mood pieces like the broken up jumbo jet lying derelict in the middle of a freeway.

A downside? Well, at eighty-eight minutes, perhaps ten of which are credits, my arse had barely warmed my leather VIP seat before it was over, even with that cheeky fart thrown in. Call me odd and hypocritical after decrying Hollywood’s seeming inability to tell a story in under two hours, but I’d have happily sat through another twenty minutes, no problem at all.

You should see it. I want to go see it again. Right now, in fact. Pick you up in an hour?

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