For those who may have missed the internet hype machine for this flick, Zombieland is a zombie comedy (a Zombedy if you will) that mixes in some elements of the romantic comedy genre while telling the tale of a pair of polar opposite men who are doing the best they can to stay alive despite almost everyone else being undead. Thin as it may sound, Zombieland manages to hit a fair amount of crisp, clean chords throughout its lean 88 minute run time and balances its humor, softer moments, and balls to the wall action set pieces well enough that the transitions between each never seems jarring. Throw in a dynamite performance from one of Hollywood’s best kept secrets, none other than Woody Harrelson, and some really neat gags and gimmicks that put new spins on old mechanics of zombie cinema, and you have a flick that will have even the most cynical and jaded of genre fans cracking a smile.
Zombieland’s greatest strengths come from unlikely sources, especially considering that the trailers and marketing used to promote the flick seemed to have won everyone over on first impressions alone. The acting was the first aspect to jump out at me, quickly followed by a plot that, while without a definitive end, still managed to feel like it had a solid three act arc that moved alone at just the right pace. Woody Harrelson is obviously the man in Zombieland, even though it’s up for debate as to whether or not he is the leading man or not. The comedy swings back and forth from above-average to downright hysterical, but thankfully it never slips down to “Apatow, Will Ferrel and the rest of the people who have ruined comedy for the last 10 years” level. It is relatively smart with some quick wit thrown in for good measure and it all flows very nicely, which is the core X factor to any good comedy. The directing (handled by Ruben Fleischer in his first big mainstream directing gig) is swift and to the point. His eye is always in the right place to catch all the action, and he doesn’t press to many buttons on the camera or fiddle with his images in post beyond adding some blood or the clever little “Rule” banners that pop in he film and pretty much explain how to survive the Zombie Apocalypse. Across the board, all of my major concerns were really unfounded, and I was pleasantly surprised with how pleasant, professional, and refreshingly fun the whole movie felt.
For all my hemming and hawing, Zombieland has turned out, for me at least, to be one of the most enjoyable films of 2009 from top to bottom. From the comedy, highlighted by a great cameo that doesn’t outstay it’s welcome, to the action (which could have used a touch more gore, but I understand it was not needed with the more lighthearted nature of the picture overall), to the more touching moments where the films raises a few interesting questions about humanity when it is faced with what amounts to its own extinction. Zombieland is proof positive that big budget movies can tap into that indy spirit that drives movies like Dance of the Dead and Shaun of the Dead to become some well received cult classics with a fairly wide and timeless appeal. Zombieland may not be the biggest and best roller-coaster in the park, but it’s the one your going to want to go on at least a few times and tell all your friends about.