Sony // 2009 // 88 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Steve Power (Retired) // November 21st, 2011
Rule #1: Cardio
"Oh, America. I wish I could tell you that this was still America, but I've come to realize that you can't have a country without people. And there are no people here. No, my friends. This is now the United States of Zombieland." -- Columbus
Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network) is one of the few survivors of the oft-foretold zombie apocalypse. He finds himself daring to make the trip back to his hometown, in the hopes that some semblance of normality may remain. Nothing goes as planned, and the walking dead are everywhere. Luckily (or not) he's found a travel-mate in the crazed redneck zombie-killing machine, Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson, The Messenger). If the zombies don't get them, they just might kill each other, if the streetwise con-woman (Emma Stone, Easy A) and her pint sized accomplice (Abigail Breslin, Little Miss Sunshine) don't manage to inadvertently do it first.
I'll just get this out of the way right up front: Zombieland is damned funny, I mean laugh out loud, eyes-watering funny. It doesn't hide behind satire or subversion, it's not the sort of movie you "chuckle" at while muttering "Brilliant, this...Jolly good" as you stare over the rim of your glasses with your legs crossed. This is no clever skewering, no genre cult-hit waiting to happen. This is no indie darling. Get all of these ideas out of your head at once. What Zombieland is, is a finely honed studio flick that's wonderfully acted, timed perfectly with a slice of witty banter and a bucket of over-the-top gore that dazzles in its reckless abandon as it causes you to wet yourself in laughter.
There's much to be said of first time feature director Ruben Fleischer (30 Minutes or Less) and his deft handling of the delicate balance that keeps Zombieland on the rails. Nothing ever gets too heavy or gruesome in Zombieland, but the comedic undertones never go so far as to undermine the proceedings as they would in an out and out spoof. Zombies are ridiculous, and everyone knows it except our intrepid heroes, and the flick really doesn't have to poke fun or skewer conventions. I take back what I said earlier, I think "Columbus" may be in on the joke, and his "rules" are one of the best elements of the film, witty and poignant, yet deceptively simple in their application of utter common sense in the face of an out and out insane situation. One could really boil the whole film down to what Columbus' rules signify: It's when the characters abandon common sense and start acting exactly like survivors in your typical "shambling undead" flick would act, that they find themselves getting into serious trouble.
It's the heroes that keep the film moving, and our intrepid bunch are about as perfect as you could hope for. Jesse Eisenberg is the heart and soul of the film, he brings intelligence and dry wit to a part that could easily have been rote and cliche. Sure, he's a dork, but he plays it with a sense of self-awareness and control that always puts him one step ahead of the other players. He shows some brilliance here, rather than falling back on the "awkward post-adolescence, college virgin" shtick, he dials down the awkwardness, and makes it more real. Sure he's a loser, but he's a far cry from the Big Bang Theory school of nerd make believe. You want to root for this guy rather than give him a wedgie before you dunk his head in a toilet and set his Star Wars lunchbox on fire. Jesse is a perfect straight man to Woody Harrelson, who really brings the laughs. Again, what's great about the script, and Woody's role, is that he's not just your hootin' and hollerin' redneck persona; Woody plays the character as real as he can given the material, and even gets a few rather heartfelt moments here and there, when he's not using a banjo and pruning shears to take out a supermarket full of zombies. It's this odd couple that earns the most attention on our demented little road trip, but Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin do just fine in their (initially) supporting roles. These four just have some great chemistry on screen, and you can tell that Mr. Fleischer unleashed his actors more than a few times for a little bit of ad-libbing, as scenes feel organic and spontaneous, and above all else, entertaining as hell.
When the action pushes the comedy back, no expense is spared. This isn't some half-hearted send-up of zombie flicks, this sucker wears it's big-budget production values on its sleeve. The zombie make up effects are as good as it gets, the blood and gore is gratuitous enough and yet handled deftly, and when the action really amps up, Zombieland can stand toe to toe with many of its zombie-horror cousins. There are a few moments of real tension in here, and while some of the "kills" are played for laughs (the piano and the banjo come to mind), there's some equally gruesome stuff on display.
It's extremely difficult to get into talk of Zombie movie-comedy hybrids without talking about the British breakout that was Shaun of the Dead, indeed Zombieland owes a lot to the little ZomRomCom (That's "zombie romantic comedy" for you squares in the audience). I'm not even going to try. If not for the Edgar Wright fuelled slice of lunacy that put Simon Pegg and Nick Frost on the American map, I highly doubt that Zombieland would ever have even come into being. "Shaun" wasn't exactly the first(maybe it was Peter Jackson and his hilariously low rent send-off, Dead Alive), but it was definitely the best, and one would argue that any flick would have a hard time following that act. Zombieland not only follows, but shoves it out of the way as it races past...on fire...screaming.
Sony's Blu-ray treatment is as good as one might expect from a recent release. The 1080p image is bright, vivd, and colorful stuff. Clarity is razor sharp, and there's not a lot in the way of grain or noise present, good or bad (Zombieland looks like it may have been shot digitally, but that's hearsay on my part). Sound is equally clear and sharp across all channels, booming and enveloping when it has to be, but with enough sense to dial things back when it should.
Extras give us a solid commentary track featuring the director, along with his two chief stars, and the film's writers. It's entertaining, if a little crowded at times, and it's not particularly revelatory, but it's a fun enough listen. There are a handful of deleted scenes, some effects comparisons, and a brief featurette included that are worthy enough for the fans, if not completely comprehensive. Also in there is the Blu-ray standard picture in picture feature, which never fails to annoy me to no end. I can handle a commentary track, but these pic-in-pic features always distract me to no end. It's a trend I'd love to see disappear, but I guess I'm in the minority there.
What we've got here is some biting comedy wrapped in just enough horror tropes to earn it the "zom com" moniker right alongside Shaun of the Dead. It may not be as clever as it's British-born cousin, but it makes up for any lack of smarts with an overabundance of charm, and a metric ton of laughs. Sony's Blu-ray treatment gets the job done in fine fashion. I'm invoking rule #32 here; "Enjoy the little things!"
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Scales of Justice
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (French)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English, Descriptive)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 88 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Deleted Scenes