GENRE: Ultraviolent zombie comedy
THE PITCH: In zombie-ravaged America, four mismatched survivors nicknamed Columbus (Adventureland’s Jesse Eisenberg), Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), Wichita (Superbad’s Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Little Miss Sunshine’s Abigail Breslin) try to get along while killing the undead and road-tripping to a California amusement park. By the way, it’s a comedy.
MONEY SHOTS: The spectacular opening credits show slow-motion zombie attacks in incongruous places like a three-legged race. Little girl zombies in princess outfits swarm a soccer mom, who drives off, crashes her car and flies through the windshield — so buckle up! Our heroes enjoy the catharsis of trashing a gift shop of Native American knick-knacks. Amusement park rides like rollercoasters and tilt-a-whirls facilitate elaborate “kills” in the final action sequence.
BEST LINE: “I may seem an unlikely survivor, with all my phobias and irritable bowel syndrome,” says meek Columbus before enumerating his obsessive but hilarious rules of survival.
BEST BAD LINE: “Time to nut up or shut up” is pretty much the “It’s my way or the highway” of 2009.
BODY COUNT: Dozens, although “scores” may be a better word, given the film’s resemblance to a video game, but in a good way. Grisly lowlights include a pair of severed hands clinging to a steering wheel and a female zombie pulling out a victim’s bone and sucking the marrow. “The Zombie Kill of the Week,” complete with catchy logo, offers a sight gag worthy of Bugs Bunny cartoons.
POP HOMAGES: Several loving callbacks to Ghostbusters. Tallahassee and Little Rock argue about the premise of “Hannah Montana.” In Hollywood, an undead Charlie Chaplin impersonator attacks the group. One character remarks, “I’m not great at farewells, so … that’ll do, pig.” Tallahassee paints a “3” on his vehicles in an unidentified nod to Dale Earnhardt.
FLESH FACTOR: A zombie stripper in pasties and g-string pursues a client. Otherwise, Columbus’ virginity ensures that the bedroom action seldom makes it past first base.
SOUNDTRACK HIGHLIGHTS: Metallica’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls” sets a tone of kickass heavy metal. Willie Nelson, Hank Williams and the Velvet Underground provide other memorable tunes.
PRODUCT PLACEMENT: The group travels for much of the film in a yellow Hummer. Federal Express packages inspire Columbus to invent a sex story. A subplot involves Tallahassee’s quest to find America’s last Twinkies, leading to numerous discussions of Hostess products such as Snowballs: “I hate coconut! Not the taste – the consistency.”
LOCAL COLOR: Zombieland was filmed in Georgia, although you probably won’t recognize many landmarks. (I don’t think the film takes place east of the Mississippi.) Tallahassee trashes a car in front of Three Sisters Bridal and Occasion in Newnan.
CAMEO: Director Ruben Fleischer worked as an assistant to Mike White on Chuck & Buck, so White appears as an ill-fated Gas N Gulp attendant. I won’t spoil the bigger cameo, which may be the funniest of the decade.
ANOTHER ZOMBIE MOVIE? REALLY? Yes. Although the George Romero-inspired trope should have completely decomposed by now, Zombieland finds new life in the genre through a clever script and snappy direction. England’s Shaun of the Dead did the rom-zom-com concept first and better, but Zombieland plays like a more raucous American-style variation on the same themes. It’s like the difference between "Flight of the Conchords" and "Tenacious D."
THE BOTTOM LINE: Zombieland loses some momentum in its last act, which requires formerly smart characters to behave stupidly. The film’s disgustingly hilarious comedy lives up to the promise of its lively trailer and could be subtitled, “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the End of the World.”