What do Twinkies, seatbelts, and shotguns have in common? They’re all prominently showcased in Zombieland, the debut feature film from first-time director Ruben Fleischer. One might expect a movie with such a childishly simplistic title would itself be childishly simplistic, and Zombieland is just that. But it’s such a delightful movie that you’ll be too busy laughing or on the edge of your seat with suspense to find fault with the lack of depth. Besides, it’s a zombie movie; don’t expect Syriana. What’s more, as zombie movies go, this one of the best for many years.

Yet another film in the ever-growing genre of ZomCom (or Zomedies), “Zombieland” stars Jesse Eisenberg – who was doing the Michael Cera thing long before Michael Cera – as Columbus and Woody Harrelson as Tallahassee, two survivors of the most recent imagination of the Zombacalypse. During the opening, Eisenberg narrates the four most important rules of surviving zombies (there are at least thirty-two rules in total): 1. Cardio (fat people were the first zombies); 2. Double Tap (make sure they’re really dead); 3. Beware of Bathrooms (a zombie movie cliché); and 4. Seatbelts (which reflects more on Columbus’ neurosis than reality). A wonderfully imaginative credit sequence follows with scenes of stripper zombies, wedding zombies, little girl zombies, etc., all set to For Whom the Bell Tolls by Metallica.

 

Columbus and Tallahassee first meet on an abandoned highway. Tallahassee is a cowboy hat and boot wearing, truck-driving, one-liner delivering, Twinkie craving, thigh-holstered shotgun toting, zombie-killing machine. Tallahassee doesn’t want to know his new comrade’s name. “No names keeps us from getting too familiar,” so he just calls him Columbus (Ohio, where he said he wanted to go). Soon, Columbus and Tallahassee run into con-sisters, the sexy and mature Wichita (Emma Stone) and the devilish and sheltered Little Rock (a mid-pubescent Abigail Breslin). The sisters are heading to an amusement park in California where it is rumored that there are no zombies, and Columbus and Tallahassee decide to go with them.

Although the sisters are lighter on the character-development side, Tallahassee and Columbus especially are deep; rich and nerdy with of an addiction to World of Warcraft, crippling loneliness, a fear of clowns that even trumps his fear of zombies. “I had the advantage of never having any friends or close family,” Columbus tells us. Because the movie takes so much care with the two main characters, their interactions are believable and compelling. The natural chemistry between Harrelson and Eisenberg doesn’t hurt either. Neither upstages the other and both have fun with the roles without losing themselves to ham or audience-winking. Breslin and Stone are perfect in their roles as well, but it would be hard for anyone to ruin the excellent dialogue in this film.

 

Several memorable sequences punctuate the film, including a raid on a supermarket (in search of twinkies), and the mindless destruction of an American Indian themed souvenir store. A zombie kill-a-thon on the rides of an amusement park and a perfectly crafted and frankly hilarious scene involving a very famous actor are also standout. Combine that with the compelling non-zombie parts, you have a wholly memorable movie that would stand up to several viewings.

The zombies themselves are nothing new, although in this film zombie-ism is virus-based rather than the dead rising. Thus, they are not listless meanderers but rather focused sprinters who move quickly and with deadly determination. And the removal of the headshot rule means that zombies can be killed in any gory and hilarious way you care to imagine, which is half the fun of Zombieland.

The movie isn’t perfect. There are logical inconsistencies, such as why power and ammunition seem to be readily available along with many other resources. Another problem is oversimplification of the story world, as and outside of the innumerable zombie army the stakes don’t appear to be especially high for anybody. But this amounts to little more than nitpicking an otherwise grossly entertaining film, which when you consider that Hollywood seems unable to make solidly entertaining films (see “Transformers II” and “GI Joe”) seems a bit silly. In fact it is refreshing to see a new director give us a movie worth watching not because of the gooey special effects or cheap zombie thrills, but because of characters, construction, and execution, that together create something lacking in many bigger-budget movies: fun.

Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Abigail Breslin, Emma Stone

Director: Ruben Fleischer

Runtime: 81 Minutes

Distributor: Sony Pictures

Rating: R