Sunday, October 4, 2009

Guts And Grotesqueries: Bloody Funny!


Simon Pegg created the sub-genre of zombie comedy with "Shaun of the Dead," and it worked because, in all honesty, zombies are hilarious. So what not a better move for a movie to make than to emphasize the humorous nature of zombies and the ways to dispose of them? First-time director Ruben Fleischer and his writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick take this idea wholly to heart, and with it they have concocted 80-minutes of pure guilty pleasure.

In its own cleverly slick, well-written, fresh, inventive, and equal parts outrageous and dry way, "Zombieland" is not only a great zombie movie but also just a downright great movie. It's well-produced, and while abundantly grotesque and gory, it's also slyly artistic and thoughtfully shot in many instances. Amidst delivering purely visceral thrills, the movie also packs in subtleties that make it something a little bit more. The tongue is planted confidently and firmly in cheek, which turns a familiar premise into a totally original dissection of what this premise is really all about.

The movie begins with a voiceover of Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg of "Adventureland") who describes his many rules for surviving the cannibal, flesh-eating inhabitants of the world-turned-Zombieland. Following such is a hilariously violent opening credit sequence that is worth duly noting for its use of slow-motion. Columbus is a loner named after his hometown of Colombus, Ohio, and he is trekking across the zombie-infested America in hopes of finding his parents. He comes across Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), a spontaneous, hot-headed, mad-eyed quirk of a man who takes pride in his ability to kill zombies. He also has an undying craving for Twinkies and more than once puts himself in danger just to obtain those puffy logs of cream. Tallahassee and Columbus team up because they have one thing in common: wanting to stay alive. The two of them later come across a sexy teen named Wichita (Emma Stone of "Superbad") and her 13-year-old sister, Little Rock (Abigail Breslin of "Little Miss Sunshine"). These tricky ladies hold some scheming up their sleeves because they've learned to trust nobody. And yet they finally decide to work with the two fellow survivors. And why? Well, why else than the simple reason that they're the only humans left?

This is ultimately a meandering road movie, but it works from not only the current cultural references and the witty banter, but also the keen focus on those who are still living as opposed to the undead. The undead are merely there for entertainment value as we watch them get slaughtered in increasingly creative fashions. There's really no plot aside from a group of people trying to survive zombies. And so the real winning point is the character bonding and consequent development. It's wildly amusing to watch as these four entirely likable characters don't dare to let the demise of all society get in the way of having a blast. We're not allowed to take the movie seriously because the characters fighting off hordes of zombies aren't even taking it seriously. They have a harder time simply dealing with each other over the zombies, and their charismatic and carefree attitudes are infectious. And even the surprisingly heartfelt moments have their place and reason.

For a portion of "Zombieland," the four survivors hole themselves up in a lavish mansion belonging to a famous celebrity. And as much as I want to give this cameo away because it is so central to understanding the comedic prowess of this movie, I absolutely can't. I usually don't mind spoilers, but here, I must refrain because the shock of this cameo will kill you. It's just too awesome, and I can't get over it.

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