First, a word on how Zombieland isn’t Shaun of the Dead 2: Jay of the Dead (where did I get Jay? It rhymes with DAY… never mind.) All the atrocious grammar, inept spelling, and questionable motives of “talk backers” on the net would make one think that the issue of plagiarism would be no big deal. How wrong one can be. In the dim, darkened world of the internet-age all movies that are sequels, prequels, remakes, reboots, sequel-remakes, remake-reboots, and rebooted-sequel-half-prequels are given a pass on their content. Generation “TROLL” screams out to Hollywood’s ears “Give me content I’ve already seen, only NEWER and with more CGI!” Yet, when a film tries to exist only on the merits of a script alone, that is when the content is harshly criticized. Apparently you can’t have two separate movies about the same subject anymore, not without bucket loads of hate spewed forth. These complaints seem to have mutated in the 90’s and snowballed into a mammoth sphere of ignorance.
The Patriot was not director Roland Emmerich’s Revolutionary War film starring Mel Gibson… it was Braveheart 2: Brave Hearter. This is obviously because, you see, Gibson is only allowed one period-piece battlefield picture per decade, any more then that and he is a one-trick-pony hack. This is not in defense of The Patriot, Emmerich, or Gibson, but it’s a great example of what isn’t given a pass. These are of course the complaints of a bunch of ill-informed youths, youngsters that have no clue about the seven billion westerns that John Wayne made every two months, all of them loved, all of them welcomed. We need not even go back as far as the Duke. Jean-Claude Van Damme made sixty action films per day back in the 1980s, all of them practically the same, all of them filled with awesome, all of them welcomed for what they were. Now we have gotten to the point where we can’t even have similar subject matter in the proximity of less then 5 years. (Begin sarcasm) You’re making a zombie movie? And it’s a comedy? Umm… Shaun of the Dead exists… PLAGIARISM!!! That’s right, it’s just a rehash for cash, that is all it can possibly be. It shares a whopping two (2!!!) broad elements with another film, Zombieland is dead on arrival (end sarcasm.) Seriously though, Zombieland is about as much of a rehash-for-cash (can I coin that term?) of Shaun, as Gettysburg was a rehash of Glory. It isn’t.
I realize that we are all guilty of this type of accusation from time to time, I know I’ve complained more then once about a new movie cribbing from an older, better flick. However, there is a difference between comparing Neil Marshall’s Doomsday to John Carpenter’s Escape From New York, to comparing films just because they share the same tone and genre. There’s obvious, and then there is just nitpicking. If you are going to shoot down a flick, do it because the writing is abysmal, the direction is shabby, the lighting is amateurish, it lacked any cohesive plot, and so on and so forth. Do not criticize because it might share the same setting and tone of another film. The only exception is for shark movies, we have JAWS, that’s enough.
Director Ruben Fleischer’s Zombieland might be the first time fast-moving-non-zombies have actually been properly utilized. The nitpicking loser inside me wants to complain, but the forgiving, Left-4-Dead addicted, softy inside me has to admit something. At no point was I bothered by the fact that the “zombies” where still-living-infected-humans, in a film called ZOMBIEland. This is because of how much of the film’s comedy is derived from the speed at which these zombies move. Right at the start of the flick we are told that due to speed, “the fatties die first.” As a fatty myself, I have to admit that this hilarious (and sadly true) assertion alone is enough to forgive all further use of non-Romero-certified-undead-slow-motion-zombies. Plus the name Zombieland is coined by Jesse Eisenberg’s character… making it the character’s mistake instead of the script’s. Also, it is time all of us who actually care about the Fast vs. Slow zombie debate admit that if fast-still-living zombies became a reality, we would call them “zombies” without hesitation. That doesn’t mean we love George Romero any less.
A hilarious slow-motion credit sequence is all we are treated to as for the initial onslaught of the infected uprising. Zombieland drops us into the already post-apocalyptic world of desolation. Narrated by Jesse Eisenberg, we are introduced to this world through his “rules” for survival, which makes a great running gag throughout the entire film. The movie doesn’t try to be a satirical horror flick bogged down in the meaning of life with heavy syrup. There is no sub-textual message about how “we are them, and they are us.” Zombieland is a simple action-comedy, but great in its simplicity and it stays true to what it is.
Opening credits and flashbacks aside, there are only five non-zombified humans seen throughout the movie, all of them with the simple goal of finding something that reminds them of a pre-zombie life. The girls, Wichita and Little Rock, Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin, are looking to visit an amusement park one last time. Woody Harrelson’s zombie-hunter, Tallahassee, simply wants to eat a Twinkie, and Jesse Eisenberg’s Columbus wants to find his “family.” Even the characters in the movie try to avoid sentimentality by calling each other by the names of the places they are from. This is not to say that there aren’t serious moments in the flick, but no more then your average action movie circa 1985. When dealing with death and survival you have to add in some semblance of emotion, here those moments are welcomed, short, sweet, and do give depth to these four survivors. At no point does the film feel cold or devoid of relatable themes, which serves the comedy, and separates it from empty action fare like Transformers 2 (I know, I know, let it go already… )
Woody Harrelson gives one of his best comedic performances since Kingpin. He is a classical machismo “badass” but he never stops giving us that sense that he’s basically just being Woody Harrelson, himself, which is arguably even funnier. He of course becomes the big-brother figure of Jesse Eisenberg, who is nothing more then a weak, scared, little wussy. Tallahassee is older, cooler, a hero archetype and externalizes all of his anger, so basically they are the Odd Couple in a zombie flick. In fact this might be the biggest flaw of the whole film, its mediocre character premise. We’ve seen these characters before and it’s pretty obvious where everyone is going and why. Paul Wernick and Rhett Reese’s script side steps most chances to make the movie’s themes and characters unique, not to mention all the technical aspects of the zombies them selves. However, all the sidestepping leaves more room for the comedy and the action, which in the end sells the movie as a cohesive entertaining whole. The characters have depth, we’ve just seen these depths so many times before, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The run time even felt short. It’s a movie review cliché but the flick doesn’t “overstay its welcome” one bit. If I’m going down the road of review clichés then I might as well mention that the flick is “just plain fun,” nothing messy. There is passion behind the need to provide light, hilarious, balls-out action-horror entertainment, you got to love that. It’s a rarity in theaters these days. Add to that a pretty good soundtrack (Metallica, Mozart, Van Halen, and Willie Nelson) and a rather cool teaser poster (the one without photoshopped actors.)
If you go back, you’ll notice I said there are only five human characters in this movie, yet four main characters, sans the credits and flashbacks. Well, a certain celebrity makes what is possibly the best comedic film-cameo in the past decade. His entrance, his stay, and his exit are all absolute gold, to the point where I plan to see it again just to hear all the dialogue missed due to the entire theater gagging with laughter. If anyone spoils this cameo for you, punch them in the gut, they’ve done you a great disservice. In fact, I feel wrong even telling you there is a cameo at all… it’s that great. This is coming from someone who usually loathes cameos to his very core.
If it must be done, I’ll do it. Is Zombieland as good as or anything like, Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead? No. Not really. Zombies and comedy is where it ends. Perhaps one could say that Shaun makes fun of the slow-moving-Romero-approved zombies in much the same way as Zombieland does the fast-movers. However, Shaun is a romantic comedy with zombies (a Rom-Com-Zom), with a much tighter, better script and a smaller scope. Shaun even has a “we are them, and they are us” message, plus a dump truck full of homage weaved throughout, with fantastic editing and direction to boot. Zombieland is a straight up action comedy, a great one, but that’s about it… unless there is something I’m not seeing. So there Mr. Internet, I hope that satiates your craving to compare mildly similar films. Thanks for reading.
13 Responses to “Opinion In A Haystack: ZOMBIELAND”
Leave a Reply