Narrated by a character we will only know as Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), because he comes from Columbus Ohio… BOOO COLUMBUS OHIO… America, as we once knew it, is gone. Due to some kind of vicious mutation of Mad Cow Disease, the United States of America has been transformed into ‘Zombie Land’ and Zombie Land isn’t a fun place to be hanging out.
Upon meeting Columbus one would quickly wonder how this awkward, skittish, nervous young adult managed to survive the Zombie scourge when apparently nobody, and I mean nobody including Barack Obama, seemed to make it through. Well Columbus, recognizing that this viewer would no doubt find his situation peculiar, has a list of things that are critical in helping one survive during the Age of the Zombies which runs the gamut from ‘Always wear your seatbelt’ to ‘Never be a hero’ and all kinds of other little nuggets in between.
Then one day while making his way across America’s highway system to see if his home town is still there, Columbus runs into Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), a completely deranged Zombie killer who loves guns, Dale Earnhardt and hates everything Zombie. Why does Tallahassee hate Zombies so much? I mean other than the fact that they eat people raw, as if that wasn’t enough? Pay your five dollar matinee fee and watch the movie your own damn self because I’m not telling.
Now it’s road trip time as Columbus and Tallahassee take off to a theoretically mythical place where there are no zombies allowed. Almost all Zombie movies have this mythical place though rare is the character in a Zombie movie that actually finds this place. Along the way Columbus and Tallahassee pick up a pair of grifters with some serious trust issues in Wichita (Emma Stone) and her tweener baby sister Little Rock (Abigail Breslin). You would think by being sisters they would be from the same town but since we aren’t using names here I guess that works better than calling them Big Wichita and little Wichita.
Survival is the name of the game for the characters in this movie since I don’t think any of them are necessarily equipped to cure zombieism by the time the movie is over. And we want to see if Wichita will lighten up enough to allow the virginal Columbus to show her some love. And we want to see if Wichita will be able to make it to this Disney Land type theme park that baby sister is desperate to go to. And we will wonder why Wichita and Little Rock have conveniently forgotten that Zombies are attracted to noise and bright lights.
I had an experience watching director Ruben Fleischer’s ‘Zombie Land’ that was very similar to the experience I had watching Ben Stiller’s ‘Tropic Thunder’. The first twenty or so minutes of ‘Zombie Land’, just like the first twenty or so minutes of ‘Tropic Thunder’, was like the funniest movie ever. The visual description of what has become of the Untied States, the incredibly creative style used in creating the opening credit sequences, the style in which the graphics were integrated into the scenery while Jesse Eisenberg’s character was listing his rules to stay alive, all the way up into Columbus’ inspired meeting of Tallahassee and Amber Heard’s cameo as Columbus’ dorm neighbor who had an early encounter with a zombie… pure genius this movie. For the first twenty or so minutes. Just like ‘Tropic Thunder’.
Then the movie kind of slowed down a bit. A lot of a bit. Nothing but mad love for the absolutely lovely Emma Stone and her unnaturally large blue eyes and the impossibly adorable Abigail Breslin but when they showed up on the scene the movie stopped being so much fun. Now ‘Zombie Land’ has ceased being a horror comedy and has turned into something along the lines of ‘Sixteen Candles’… with Zombies off to the side. I do recognize that inserting a love interest and a cute kid does lighten the movie up a bit, it humanizes the characters in the movie somewhat and of course if you have an attractive damsel in a movie it’s just a matter of time before said damsel becomes distressed and will require saving, but it does take us away from what was making ‘Zombie Land’ so damn cool.
But despite my minor dissatisfaction with the change in the direction of this movie, there were still other things it had going for it such as some pretty damn horrible looking zombies, the sprinting kind, a cameo by Bill Murray doing the thing as only Bill Murray can do it, and a message that taking drugs are bad. Seriously. How else can one justify dressing up like a zombie and playing a practical joke on a guy who’s spent the last six months running from zombies and walks around with a loaded shotgun? Wouldn’t have happened if the character performing this ‘practical joke’ wasn’t stoned. Remember this children.
‘Zombie Land’ is a horror comedy that is two parts inspired wit with one part of tired teen / young adult or whatever angst comedy. While I could’ve easily done without the hidden homage to the late John Hughes, it’s not nearly enough to derail one of the more cleverly presented horror comedies that we’ve ever seen.