After a virus has swept the world and turned 99% of the population into ravenous zombies, four survivors hook up on a perilous journey to LA: nervous Columbus (Eisenberg), badass Tallahassee (Harrelson) and con-team sisters Wichita (Stone) and Little Rock (Breslin).
By now, you’ve probably heard about The Cameo. Still, just to be on the safe side, we won’t spoil the identity of The Cameoer, but otherwise it’s true: halfway through Ruben Fleischer’s absurdly assured debut, Zombieland, there’s a ‘surprise’ appearance from a major comedy star that is so daffy, so self-effacing and so perfectly pitched that it virtually shuts the book on any other celebrity cameos from hereon in. As The Star gamely takes the piss out of his (or her) career and the perceived egocentric nature of celebs, indulging in knockabout recreations of his (or her) most-vaunted blockbuster, Zombieland – a movie that had seemed, for all the world, like just another zombie comedy – is inarguably brilliant.
Thankfully, what precedes and follows The Y’Know is arguably brilliant, and worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as the genre-leader, Shaun Of The Dead. That movie, stylish as it was, spent a lot of time grounding the action in reality, but Zombieland takes place in an unabashed fantasy world where little old ladies can crush zombies with grand pianos, Looney Tunes-style, and where the zombie apocalypse is merely an excuse for four characters to have the run of America, driving around like they own the place, wallowing in luxury mansions and – occasionally – bumping into, and summarily dispatching, some zombies.
But, despite the title, the zombies don’t really matter in Zombieland. Oh, they’re there, alright, occasionally threatening and always ready to be splattered, but Fleischer and his writers, Reese and Wernick, are refreshingly interested in putting flesh on their characters’ bones, as opposed to stripping it off.
And what characters they are – normally in zombie films, the heroes’ ranks are padded out by unlikeable zombie fodder just treading water until they get munched. But Zombieland’s greatest achievement is in presenting four wholly likeable characters in whose ultimate survival you become wholly invested, whether they’re gambolling gaily around with The Cameoer or, in one neat road trip sequence, boring each other to tears with arguments about everything from Willie Nelson to Hannah Montana.
Admittedly, Emma Stone’s cynical Wichita and Abigail Breslin, as her little sister, are somewhat underwritten, but in Harrelson’s ice-cool Tallahassee, a man with an innate talent for turning the undead into the just dead, and Eisenberg’s Columbus, propelling the story with a wry young-Woody-Allen voiceover and his list of paranoid, survivalist rules, Fleischer has a classic buddy movie team at his disposal. Throw The Cameo in there, and the result is a zombie flick that stands, shoulder-to-decomposing-shoulder, with the best the genre has to offer.
Very funny, often thrilling and full of neat little touches that should make it entirely rewatchable, Zombieland sees Fleischer join the ranks of directors Romero, Wright, Raimi, Snyder whose first films arent just zombie films, but great films.