Land of the damn fun dead ~ That Movie Blogger Fella

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Land of the damn fun dead

My rating:

I have a friend who (not quite, um, legally) watched this on DVD about a month ago. While he didn't unreservedly recommend it, he very adamantly told me not to watch it in cinemas. All the best parts are the goriest and most vulgar, according to him, and would surely be brought to the attention of Big Daddy National Censorship Board. I decided to go anyway, since I've already made it a point to review the local cinema scene - and that includes the Malaysian versions of films that have been censored for our own fragile little sakes.

But I'll be picking it up on DVD too. Because it's very much worth it.

The zombie apocalypse has come; hordes of once-human, insanely ravenous cannibals roam the remnants of civilisation. One survivor is Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), a nerdy shut-in who relies on a list of his own rules to survive. He meets Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), a badass redneck who enjoys killing zombies perhaps a little too much - and who sets the precedent of calling everyone by the names of cities to avoid "getting too close" - and they decide to travel together. And before long, they are joined by Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin), sisters and con artists, whose only goal is to reach the supposedly zombie-free amusement park Pacific Playground.

I said in my Pandorum review that the zombie genre is pretty much played out, and that new zombie movies need to find fresh angles on the idea. Well, Zombieland is just the breath of fresh air the genre needs. There's no central brilliant twist to it; even the idea of doing a zombie parody-comedy has been done before in Shaun of the Dead. Instead, this film is fresh and inventive in a dozen little ways that all add up to a terrifically fun whole. For instance, Columbus' rule no. 1: cardio - because you need to be able to run to get away from zombies. I saw that in a trailer months ago, and that was all I needed to look up Cinema Online's "Coming Soon" page hoping to find it. (Also, I'm thinking of taking up jogging.)

Fresh and inventive thing number two is acknowledging the wish-fulfillment aspects behind zombie movies, and the post-apocalyptic genre as a whole. It is a pretty appealing fantasy; being a survivor of the collapse of civilisation, taking and doing whatever you want from the deserted stores and houses and buildings. Not to mention having an easier time scoring with any cute female survivors you meet too. But it wouldn't be as much fun without some ass to kick as well, so yeah, zombies! And this movie plays that up most enjoyably, as personified in the character of Tallahassee. His zombie-killing methods are riotously funny, from playing a banjo to draw them out to turning a roller-coaster into his own personal rail-shooter game.

This is director Ruben Fleischer's debut, and I predict a long and illustrious career for him. What my aforementioned friend was most impressed with was the opening credits sequence, a montage of various slo-mo scenes of the zombie apocalypse - and yes, it is gloriously and gorily beautiful. The little supers of Columbus' rules every time a scene demonstrates one of them is also clever and funny. But Fleischer also knows how to tell a story with heart, particularly in regards to Columbus and Wichita's budding romance. He even gives Tallahassee an emotional moment, one that acknowledges that a world in which everyone is either a zombie or has been eaten by one won't be all fun and games. And when the zombies attack en masse, he knows how to craft an exciting action climax.

I'm old enough to remember Woody the dimwitted bartender from Cheers, but there's not a trace of that character in Harrelson's performance here. Tallahassee will likely be the most iconic character he's ever played to date; this is the stuff pop-culture legends are made of. Jesse Eisenberg is once again a nerdy, instantly likable hero - putting him, and the characters he normally plays, in a zombie movie may well be fresh and inventive thing number three. Emma Stone is smokin' hot, not just for her looks but for the smart, cunning, gun-toting character she plays. Abigail Breslin is one of the finest child actors working today, but I like to think she took this rather minor role simply because the script was so much fun. And I would be remiss not to mention the hilarious celebrity cameo, which I shall refrain from spoiling (if it hasn't been spoiled for you already). Suffice it to say that you'll enjoy it best if you were a child of the '80s.

I wondered about labeling this as horror - there are some jump scares, but overall it's very much a (very funny) comedy. But it doesn't skimp on the blood and gore, and the zombies are still scary, so horror it is. (Don't bring your 5-year-olds-and-below to this.) It's a rare film that leaves me wanting more when it ends, and this is one. Screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick originally envisioned this as a TV show, and it shows; it's greatest flaw is that it's too slight, somewhat shallow, and way too short at just under 90 minutes. But it's a rollicking 90 minutes of terrifically good fun. And with its confirmed box-office success, a sequel is almost guaranteed - perhaps even lots of sequels. Hope they hurry up. I want one like Tallahassee wants a Twinkie.

NEXT REVIEW: The Storm Warriors
Expectations: meh


Ken Wooi said...

another zombies killing movie.. =P

theeggyolks said...

it sounds funny..gonna catch it soon

McGarmott said...

You'll be happy that it was announced weeks ago that a sequel is in the works - and it will be in 3D.