“Nut up, or shut up,” expounds Tallahassee, the badass tough guy of “Zombieland.” It is his catch phrase, and the tag line for the picture. It tells you exactly what you are in for as well. Which isn’t a bad thing. While borrowing liberally from better films this one still keeps its head above water with enough laughs and fun to help power through the weak script.
Before walking into the theater, by just looking at the title, “Zombieland,” you can tell subtlety is not this film’s strong suit. In fact it would be hard pressed to be able to define the word at all. Following Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson) and Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) as they try to find their way through a world overrun by the walking dead turns out to kind of fun, even if there is little to do in a post-apocalyptic U.S.A. Most of the picture is spent in Tallahassee’s almost existential search for a Twinkie.
Eventually the two miss matched fools are shaken down for their Cadillac by sisters Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) and they form a loose alliance. There is a slight subplot about getting to Paradise Playland, a kind of Wally World, which they think is zombie free, and serves as the eventual impetus for the third act.
Where the picture is devoid of any semblance of cohesive structure or dynamic plotting it makes up for in gags. Zombie strippers and gruesome car crashes dominate the fun opening. If you are looking for variation then this picture isn’t for you, but if you like watching zombies get blown up, beaten down, and shot in the head then this one is right up you alley. I like that alley so I was content with the mayhem even if nothing was really going on.
Starting with a burning Capital building, and what appeared to be a zombie member of Congress, sets off the film’s under current of 21st Century Nihilism. Watching their abandon as the little family destroys a road side tourist trap for no other reason than there are no consequences seemed to hit the feeling home. The characters have little regard for human life, and less for the society that has fallen into ruin. Are they perfect analogs for today’s youth growing up in the remnants of a once great empire? Actually, who cares… just break something and run over a zombie.
Jesse Eisenberg and Emma Stone have enough chemistry to pull off the love story. Stone continues to be cast in the love interest role, seemingly because of her husky, early Kathleen Turner voice. Eisenberg was also an obvious choice for the neurotic Columbus, though Michael Cera springs to mind as alternative casting – both seem to be graduates from the Woody Allen school of acting. Abigail Breslin melds well with the rest of the cast making her Little Rock mature beyond her years, but with enough childishness to be believable.
Most of the joy from the film comes from watching Woody Harrelson have a good time. He mixes a touch of his country boy persona originated on “Cheers” with an obvious take on Ash from the “Evil Dead” series. He’s brash, loud, and fun toting a sub-machine gun in one hand and a banjo in the other, and he uses both to do some zombie killing. Writers Rhett Reese & Paul Wernick try to give Tallahassee some heart by tossing in a cliche “dead son” back story, but it is just another example of the film’s lack of finesse.
The surprise cameo in the middle of the movie is amusing, but not as awe inspiring as the filmmakers intended. The role was originally slated for the late Patrick Swayze, but he pulled out due to the onset of his pancreatic cancer. Had Swayze decided to stay on the film could have gained an eerie, if not all together tasteless, resonance.
Whatever its flaws this film is worth the short 80 minute run time because it isn’t trying to be something it is not. It is a silly, diverting B-picture in the truest sense. Not every zombie movie has to be a contemplation of consumerism and its negative effects on the soul, or a study of human nature when the fetters of society are stripped away. Sometimes it is awesome just to watch a zombie’s head get crushed. In fact it takes courage to just enjoy things sometimes, and when it comes to “Zombieland” you better “Nut up, or shut up.”
El Luchador Rating: 3 out of 5
Review By: Paul S. Myers (a.k.a. El Luchador)