There will no doubt be those who disagree with me on this one, and I'm hoping that by addressing it right here and now they won't bother emailing me, telling me what a jackass I am. These are the people who will come out of Zombieland loving the film, telling their friends how great it was, and raving about it as if it were some miracle of cinematic achievement--the second coming of Night of the Living Dead, or some nonsense like that. The fact of the matter is that while you are watching it, a decent percentage of Zombieland is entertaining, in much the same way masturbating in the shower is sexually fulfilling. But when the movie is over, it is little more than empty experience lacking any sort of real depth or social commentary.
Right about now, some of you are probably saying, "It's a f***ing zombie movie, asshole! It doesn't need depth or social commentary!" To which I would respond, "The greatest zombie movies of all time--Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead--all had depth and social commentary." Hell, even zombie movies that skimp on the social commentary in exchange for humor--Return of the Living Dead, Shaun of the Dead, Dead Alive--have a certain amount of depth and story complexity that makes it more than just movie about the walking dead. But the problem with Zombieland is that it makes no social commentary, it trades depth and dimension for humor, and instead of seamlessly mixing the humor and the horror the way Return of the Living Dead and others have, it treats the two as separate elements. The result is a movie that is both horror and comedy, but seldom at the same time.
Set two months after the zombie apocalypse has wiped out most of the country, Zombieland finds "Columbus" (Jesse Eisenberg), a college student in Texas, trying to make his way home to Columbus, Ohio. A socially inept loner, Columbus narrates the film, explaining his rules of survival--maintain good cardio to outrun zombies, avoid public bathrooms, always check the backseat, etc. Columbus crosses paths with "Tallahassee" (Woody Harrelson), a badass zombie killer who revels in killing the walking dead, and seems to have lost touch with his humanity. The pair agree to join up as they travel east, but things take an unexpected turn when they meet up with sisters "Wichita" (Emma Stone) and "Little Rock" (Abigail Breslin), who are headed in the opposite direction. The rest of the movie is an endless parade of zombie-killing jokes, as the quartet attempt to screw each other over. Apparently, when the rest of the country is trying to eat you, the first instinct is to survive but only at the comedic expense of others, as opposed to helping each other out.
To be certain, there are entertaining moments in Zombieland, and quite a few decent laughs. But taken as a whole, the film is incredibly shallow and largely forgettable. Early on, it is established that the zombies are actually people infected with a virus, which pretty much makes them fast-moving rabid creatures, hungry for human flesh, with some semblance of intelligence. These zombies are more like the infected in the 28 Days Later than the walking dead in the films of George Romero, but as a collective, the zombies are never explored with any sense of character. They exists purely as punchlines in the one joke the movie has to offer--"What's the best way to kill a zombie?" And I suppose now is as good a time as any to mention that all you have to do to kill a zombie in Zombie land is shoot it--not through the head--but just shoot it.
At its best, Zombieland is an amusing film that plays as if it were made by people who've never seen a decent zombie movie. At its worst, it is just another example of Hollywood mining a genre that needs to be put to rest. Playing out like a 2009 zombie-fied version of a 1980s Chevy Chase Vacation film, Zombieland is not for diehard fans of films of the living dead, it is instead made for those who don't realize Zack Snyder's Dawn of the Dead is a remake of Romero's classic. It is a movie for those who didn't get most of the jokes in Shaun of the Dead, and who have played Resident Evil and Left 4 Dead, but have never seen the original Night of the Living Dead.
David Walker is the creator of BadAzz MoFo, a nationally published film critic, and the Writer/Director of Black Santa's Revenge with Ken Foree now on DVD [Buy it now]