Directed by Ruben Fleischer. Starring Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, Abigail Breslin, Amber Heard. (2009, R, 87 min.)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Oct. 2, 2009
No spoilers here, but first things first: Zombieland (which had its world premiere during Fantastic Fest) has the single most outrageously entertaining and unexpected celebrity cameo of any film – genre or otherwise – this filmgoer has seen in a long, long time. It's not a sequence that makes or breaks the film, but it does tip Zombieland over the edge of zom-com ordinariness (and if you don't believe there is such at thing, I urge you to go check out all the straight-to-DVD zomedies taking up valuable shelf space at your local indie video outlet) into something considerably weirder and therefore more fun. It's not Shaun of the Dead by a long shot, but by the same token neither is it, thankfully, George A. Romero's Survival of the Dead (which had a less-than-impressive screening at Fantastic Fest, among other fall festivals). Debuting director Fleischer's action-and-innards-drenched film dials it all up to 11 from the opening credits sequence – which, like Zack Snyder's underrated remake of Dawn of the Dead, uses pop-music-backed mayhem to smart expository and staggeringly kickass effect – and only slows down for a breather for the length of the aforementioned cameo. Storywise, there's precious little going on here that we haven't seen before, but Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick's archly hip and often downright hilarious script, combined with a quartet of seamless performances and enough cranial destruction to sate even the most diehard Fangoria reader, makes for one hell of a wild ride. It begins, as do all good dead things, in Texas, where former UT Austin student Columbus (Eisenberg), who narrates, fills in the plot's backstory – virus, zombies, apocalypse, and Rules to Live By – before hooking up with the whiskey-slugging, Escalade-driving Tallahassee (Harrelson, clearly enjoying every breath his anarchic character takes). Columbus is searching for his family, Tallahassee is searching for a Hostess Twinkie (don't ask), but what they find are two other zombieland survivors: leggy Wichita (Stone) and her tweener companion Little Rock (Breslin). In a nod toward Romero's direction, the living have way more issues than the dead (or undead or infected), but Zombieland is dead set against being dead serious. Its tonal pallor has more in common with a foreshortened It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World than with 28 Days or Weeks Later, and then, again, there's that jaw-dropping cameo. It'll kill ya.