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Monday, March 1, 2010

"Zombieland" -- A Review

Every now and then I'm compelled to write reviews of movies I like. More often than not, it's the ones that I hate that get my ire up to actually do it. "Zombieland" pissed me off in just such a way.

The movie started with great promise from the beginning scene, by having the main character (Columbus) admit that living in a zombie laden world with the undead constantly trying to attack him, wasn't really all that different than his geeky life he had before the societal collapse of the United States. All the while calmly explaining in voice-over as he's chased around a deserted gas station lot by said undead.

The flashbacks of the awkward teenager finally meeting the hot girl next door and the high-jinks that ensue are hilarious as well as character defining, as are his lists of various phobias he had even before the world became insane.

Joining him on the road to find a safe haven somewhere in this crazy landscape, Columbus is picked up by a red-neck, Hostess loving, zombie killing enthusiast played by Woody Harrelson, in a part that fits like a glove. The banter between the two opposites and the potential for the story were fantastic. And you can't help but hope that the director is going to run with the chemistry. But then... the momentum is shattered by the odd insertion of two grifter sisters, played by Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin...

The first half of "Zombieland" had me really wanting to like this flick. And there was much to like: Having the characters use nicknames for each other was a wonderful tool to show the reluctance of the players to trust; The flashbacks were well-directed and staged and added at pivotal points to move the plot along; Columbus's list of rules to stay alive which included things like--Keep your Cardio up, Limber up, Double tap your zombies (i.e. shoot 'em twice), Never be a Hero, Always wear your Seat belt, Avoid Bathrooms, etc. flashed across the screen in appropriate places and were a nice touch. (Sadly there were supposedly 30 something rules which we never hear, and the device was abandoned somewhere around the 3rd act, for far too long, losing the consistent thread.)

I also enjoyed the plot reason for the zombie infestation-- tainted meat at fast food stands that morphed from causing mad cow disease to actually causing a disease that turned people mad....into fast-moving, ravenous zombies in other words.

Other well done story spikes were the slow reveal of why Tallahassee was the way he was, and the revelation of his softer side, as well as the initial clever but ultimately underused appearance of Bill Murray playing himself.

In short, the first two acts of this movie were a great deal of fun. And I was ready to be fully invested in "Zombieland."

Now we get to the third act.

If you liked "Shaun of the Dead," which has the potential to become a classic. "Zombieland," is NOT that. The main reason is the lack of consistency and the stupid plot devices that jar you out of the story, and keep you from getting involved in the fantasy 100%.

Note; If you plan on seeing it and haven't, don't read further.

Here's what I hated about the movie, and much like Columbus's rules, I'll number them, simply because there are so many and I certainly don't want to leave anything out:

1.) The movie gets sloppy after the intro of the girls. i.e. why if you have a baseball bat are you going to throw it away in the grocery store, not knowing if there are more Zombies about.... not to mention that someone of Tallahassee's mind set is not just going to give his gun to someone under any circumstances. Nor fall for a stalled truck in the road routine. These would be the actions of a stupid character, but it had already been established that Tallahassee is anything but that.

2.) Seemed like the forgiveness happened pretty quick between the two factions. I don't think I'd trust or forgive someone who stole my truck, guns and gear, not once, but TWICE.

3.) Wouldn't you be stockpiling food as well as weapons if in this actual situation? Logic does not come into play.

4.) Considering the zombie menace, wouldn't you go to the LEAST populated place you can think of, instead of LA for gosh sake?

5.) I understand what they were trying to do with the "young guy gets the girl thing, and the older guy finds a new child to mentor," but didn't buy it.

6.) The Bill Murray segment went on WAY too long. Had good potential to be funny. But WHY do that to Bill in the end, making one of the characters an actual murderer, who by the way, showed very little remorse.

7.) Any idiot, knows not to pretend to be a zombie and scare someone with a shotgun, who is already prone to shoot zombies. That would be my rule #1.

8.) An amusement park? Really? I saw a Spanish movie a few years ago at a festival in San Sebastian, that did this much, much better. Zombie chasing kids around a park. Kids kill zombie creatively after much running and scary high-jinks. I'll try to remember the name.... my point being, it would have been nice to have something original.

9.) The theme park venue itself brings up many questions: Who was turning on and stopping all of those rides! They don't work on their own you know.

10.) Yeah, ditch your Hummer full of guns to get a few zombies off your roof. Couldn't you just stop real quick. Fling 'em off your roof? When the Hummer ends up in the lake and the girls decide to hoof it instead. I was 100% out of this story.

11.) Only to be followed by more ridiculousness: Yeah, get on the ride that is going to drop like a stone right into chomping view, onto the horde of zombies trying to eat you. And again! Who is operating the ride!!!

Oh...and my final complaint:

12.) If I were traveling alone with my kid sister, and found 2 guys with guns, one of whom was a crack shot and hell-bent on killing zombies, I would not be in SUCH a hurry to ditch 'em, if my true goal were survival.

I could go on. The movie got soooo fractured towards the end, that the minor enjoyment I had at the beginning of this flick evaporated like cheap perfume.

All that being said, I loved Harrelson in his part. He made the movie. The reverse shooting gallery scene at the amusement park is a nice touch. And Harrelson is a joy to watch whenever he's on screen. He infused his character with wit and wisdom that oozed through the tough shell from his first appearance on screen.

It's a shame too. "Zombieland," is an example of a good idea that somehow went awry. I suspect that it started out as a personal project, then too many cooks converged on the kitchen, with too many diverse ingredients, which often happens in formula film making.

The only other thing I can think to explain the derailment is perhaps that I missed the film makers clever and cutting point entirely....

If indeed the third act was meant to be a parody of living in LA and making films in the LA system, and showing how a good project can go to shit when the vision is lost...

Then, in fact, perhaps the point they were trying to make is that LA already IS "Zombieland."

Satire at it's best? Could it be?

Perhaps I am wrong then, because if so... then this movie is actually brilliant instead of mediocre. :-) As it drives that point home like a stake to the heart.


  1. Liked it better the first time - when it was called CarnEvil: the arcade videogame.

  2. I just heard from one of my friends that the sequel has just been green-lighted, in 3-D no less. With Harrelson reprising his role.

  3. According to my friend, Michael Lea. This does explain alot:

    "Zombieland" was originally a TV pilot that ended after the girls scam them the first time; when it got picked up to be a feature, they had to come up with an ending. Probably part of the reason you felt a drop-off in quality in the later sections."

  4. This is a ridiculous review posted by someone who obviously has difficulty seeing past there nose it was a COMEDY and i dont know many people who didnt laugh now thats the point the zombies were zombies charcters mainly funny with splashes of brilliance especially woody h and the bill murry scenes were a stroke of pure genius remember the word for the day COMEDY