Director: Ruben Fleischer
Starring: Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, Abigail Breslin, Amber Heard, Bill Murray
Many people have their own theories as to how the world will end. The way that our news media outlets always obsess over the next big “epidemic,” you’d think they’d actually be happy if the Apocalypse finally happened. I’m not saying that the Ebola virus would just blow over if left unchecked, but you’d be more likely to catch the common cold. Let’s say a contagion did come about so fast-acting that it spreads worldwide overnight. If you’re one of the lucky ones left alive, how do you handle the knowledge that everyone you’ve ever known is probably dead?
In “Zombieland,” one hamburger tainted by Mad Cow Disease somehow led to a massive outbreak of the dead coming back as flesh-eating zombies. There’s no way to tell exactly how many people are still left alive, but we only ever see six surviving humans, only one of which uses his real name. Those who remain nameless are identified, to each other and to us, by their hometown. Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) is our humble narrator. He’s been a loner since the zombies took over, which is really no different from how his life was before. His first sign that something truly messed up was going on was when the girl from Apartment 406 (Amber Heard) knocks on his door, screaming to be let in. She had been attacked by some homeless guy who tried to eat her. Before Columbus could count his blessings that she’d picked his apartment to crash in, she turns out to have been infected and attacks him, forcing him to kill her.
Two months later, Columbus has developed a system of rules to follow, a sort of survival guide. One day, he runs across another warm body, a Cadillac-driving, Twinkie-loving cowboy from Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), and hitches a ride. They make a pretty good team, taking out zombies with relative ease. They can handle the dead, all right, but it’s the living that still give them fits. Con artist sisters Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) lure them into a trap, with Little Rock pretending to be infected, commandeering Tallahassee’s vehicle and all of his and Columbus’s weapons. But don’t think for a second that’s the only time their paths will cross.
Wichita is taking Little Rock to California, where they intend to pay a visit to the amusement park known as Pacific Playland, alleged to be devoid of zombie activity. They’ve been accumulating a decent sum of cash playing their little con game since before the outbreak began. Columbus and Tallahassee find another van, and they find the Cadillac seemingly abandoned. But it’s just a ruse, and the girls are able to trick them once again. There should be a saying to go along with this level of gullibility…
…Somehow, I don’t think that’s quite it. Oh, well. Close enough.
The coolest part of “Zombieland” comes around after the group reaches Hollywood. They realize that, suddenly, they have the option of staying at just about any famous person’s house without having to worry about things like trespassing or breaking and entering. Tallahassee has a specific mansion in mind, the home of Bill Murray. Somehow, Little Rock’s never heard of him. Her excuse is that she’s 12, but I say that’s crap. I was only five the first time I saw “Ghostbusters,” which is the movie Columbus uses to educate Little Rock on the subject of Bill Murray. The great comedian-turned-serious actor has taken to blending in with the herd of zombies by dressing up as one so he can get out of the house when he wants. Probably would be a good idea to take that makeup off and act normally in the presence of other survivors, don’t you think? This sequence is so amusing that the climax, at the amusement park, can’t help but be an afterthought.
“Zombieland” is another case of a horror movie… or in this case, a horror-comedy… which was perfectly cast. Jesse Eisenberg, already a veteran of movies with the suffix “-land” in the title, is perfectly believable as a shut-in loser forced to go out into the world when everything went straight to hell. Emma Stone, one of the great young comediennes of her generation, somehow finds a way to make her character loveable even when she is at her most untrustworthy.
Although this is a comedy, because of its subject matter, there can’t help but be a certain sadness to it all. Everybody’s lost something or someone important to them, or had to do things that they may not have had the world remained as it was. Even a potential relationship between Columbus and Wichita seems to me to be doomed to failure unless she can learn how to trust other people. She would do well to remember Rule #34: When life gives you lemons… throw the lemons away and go hunt for that Twinkie!