Zombieland treats the undead apocalypse like a series of bumpy carnival rides, continuously pumping the same adrenaline-packed entertainment into slightly different blood-drenched packages. All shapes and sizes are game for mutilation and frenzied feeding, even those cute girl scouts and innocent brides to be. Chaos reigns, but under a mushroom cloud of irony.
The film cleverly uses voice over as Jesse Eisenberg’s nerdy Columbus introduces his rules of survival while proving their importance in a battle for his life. Zombies have long taken over the world, and in this stunning and hilarious opening sequence, the audience gets a taste of the sense of humor needed to survive.
Only the strong have survived, or at least the reclusive and cunning. Columbus, who seemingly missed the rise of the undead because he was too busy shut in playing video games, meets Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), a knife throwing, shotgun wielding badass with a special knack for dispatching zombies. The two form an unlikely alliance and the thin narrative goes from there in all the obvious directions, but with a specific flare for horror iconography and film history.
But despite the 81 minute running time, Zombieland suffers from overkill, both on the comedy and horror side. It’s fitting the film ends in a Disneyland-esque amusement park, the artificial setting for a massive showdown between the film’s surviving heroes (which now include sisters played by Emma Stone and Abagail Breslin) and legions of excited zombies. After much repetition (aside from the great cameo by Bill Murray) and excess, these final kills remind us of the energy on display in the opening moments.
Zombieland aims to please, touring the terrain of previous films with pinpoint accuracy and wit. Just don’t expect a lasting meal. Beyond the absurd facade, it lacks the character depth of Shaun of the Dead and the social weight of Romero’s Dead films. But then again it aims pretty low on purpose, enjoying the small things in life. For Zombieland, there’s no one left to enjoy the subtext.