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Zombieland Mines Those Monsters for Laughs, Mostly Scores

Directed by Ruben Fleischer
Written by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick
Sony, 2009

Zombieland is the perfect movie to end the most self-aware decade in my lifetime.  I’m not sure I blame 1996’s Scream, but I think it was the beginning of the idea of trying not to appear stupid when making movies riddled with dumb cliches…yes, yes, see, we get it…we acknowledge it’s stupid…wink wink.  This type of film derives from camp classics that were not aware of how stupid they were, and offered a different type of enjoyment…the ironic so-lame-it’s-great films that gained a following usually after the movie long left theatres and was discovered on video.  This is the third zombie film of the decade to acknowledge its conventions and make a comedy out of it, joining the more horror-bent Dawn of the Dead remake and the British hit Shaun of the Dead.  And while it doesn’t deal with zombies, the STV cult hit Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon continued our self-aware horror movie decade by showing us what horror movie killers do to prepare for a rampage.

Zombieland’s almost too painfully aware at the beginning, as our hero Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg, again expertly playing the lovable loser) explains to us his rules for surviving zombies, and after explaining them, showing us how he implements them, complete with large blocky subtitles appearing on the screen somewhere.  He has been part of a zombie apocalypse, where there are far more zombies than humans around.  He soon meets up with the legendary, Twinkie-loving Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson) and plan to find a place where there are no zombies and perhaps more people.  They eventually run into a couple of con-artist sisters, 12-year-old Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) and the fetching Wichita (Emma Stone, who is one my new favorite actresses in the same vein as Anna Faris).

The four, after a slow start in becoming friends, start making their way west to an amusement park in Los Angeles that is rumored not to have any zombies.  It’s a survival pic as they look for food and shelter while blasting zombies.  There’s a cameo from Bill Murray, playing himself, that is one of the highlights of the film, as we get to take a nostalgic look back at Ghostbusters, and the dangers of trying to fit in with zombies.

After a fairly slow start with all the rules, which are amusing until they are pounded into you, the movie starts to really cook from its middle-third into the finale, which is a great action piece with laughs.  I liked the little asides the movie puts in with cartoonish aplomb.  We see how Columbus first dealt with a zombie, we see “Kills of the Week,” and the movie’s dialogue becomes fresher as the self-awareness begins to melt away.  It’s a great deal of fun, something from this year I’ll definitely be watching again and destined to be a classic in the next few years.

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