89 min., rated R.
Grade: B +
Time to nut up or shut up, folks; "Zombieland" is a bloody blast. Even if you thought the zombie genre was more dead than rotting human flesh (I sure did), Ruben Fleischer's directorial debut is a hilariously witty, inventive, and lively horror-comedy (or a zom-com?) done with verve, bringing fresh blood and life to this George A. Romero-inspired horror staple. And again, the zombies are "28 Days Later" fast, not "Night of the Living Dead" pokey.
"Adventureland's" Jesse Eisenberg, the adorably dorky Michael Cera stand-in who's actually making headway (in a star performance), is called Columbus because being the skinny, paranoid loner that he is, he's trying to get home to his parents in Ohio without becoming a “cannibal freak.” Things enthusiastically start out in your face, playing like a survival guide with rules (Rule #1: Cardio, Rule #2: Double Tap...Rule #4: Fasten your seatbelts) printed on the screen for us survivalists, via Columbus' irreverent voice-over narration about the global zombie outbreak, and it's done in such a smartly funny way. Only do the consistently reminded rules become a little overly cute.
Doing a badass James Wood impression, Woody Harrelson is Tallahassee, a drinkin' and drivin' hooligan zombie-killer who picks up Columbus and is not only out to see zombie blood on his hands but get his hands on the last Twinkie in America. (This becomes a pretty amusing running joke on the cream-filled Hostess dessert.) The mismatched team have a grocery store run-in with a con-artist sister pair: Wichita ("Superbad's" Emma Stone in punk-sexy form with eye shadow and a firearm handy) and her 12-year-old kid sister, Little Rock (Abigail Breslin), who's feisty enough to put bullets into a zombie's head but hasn't been around long enough to know the likings of Woody Nelson or Bill Murray (more about him later). Now, where to, the badass quartet guns it to a zombie-free zone...Southern California.
Moving along at a zippy pace, the film keeps the jokes flying, with snarky banter and pop culture self-references, shouting out to Facebook, 1997's "Anaconda" (which is incorrectly dubbed as an R-rated movie), and various other movies, just to name a few, and fun pokes at obese rednecks and scary clowns. There's a lot of unapologetic gore as well, not without a heavy dose of humor from Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick's sharp, knowing script. The inspired, eclectic cast helps a lot too, and there's a laugh-out-loud, self-deprecating cameo by “the big BM” whose final regrets include "Garfield" (a real LOL!).
"Zombieland" never lacks energy, attitude, or gleefully sick gags, with an applause-worthy climax at a Pacific Playland amusement park, and it runs at an appropriately quick hour and a half, just missing the mark of wearing out its welcome.