If 2005's remake of Dawn of the Dead — not to mention 28 Days and Weeks Later — reflected the nihilistic bleakness of the Bush years, Zombieland is firmly in Obama's "Yes we can" ... survive the zombie apocalypse camp.
More comedy than horror, director Ruben Fleischer's stylish but slight debut isn't as witty as Shaun of the Dead — the gold standard of comic zombie flicks — but is more entertaining. Though the drama is pretty threadbare, screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick are hell-bent to amuse you at almost every turn.
Jesse Eisenberg and Woody Harrelson show almost perfect chemistry as a sort of college-aged-Woody-Allen-meets-redneck-John-Wayne on-the-road duo, hacking and slashing through an undead landscape. Eisenberg's Columbus is a neurotic geek, whose social alienation and World of Warcraft skills have helped him survive. Harrelson's Tallahassee is a Twinkie-loving, backwoods loner who has discovered his life's calling — to kill zombies. The two cautiously decide to travel together but see their plans derailed by con-artist sisters (Abigail Breslin and Emma Stone).
And that's pretty much it. Yeah, the quartet heads west in search of a zombie-free zone, but like most road trip flicks, it's the journey not the destination. Fleisher de-emphasizes the undead threat and focuses on how these four survivors begin to trust one another. It's an interesting choice that adds an unexpected sweetness to the gore-filled yucks (both meanings of the word). Add one of the best title sequences "evah" and an inspired surprise cameo halfway through, and Zombieland delivers the biggest bang for your back-to-school buck.
But there's no shortage of Hollywood clichés — most tragically a muddled and mostly unimaginative final showdown in an amusement park. Still, for a movie about the world falling into flesh-eating ruin, it's remarkably hopeful. Who knows, maybe we'll survive this recession after all.
Jeff Meyers writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.