In keeping with my recent predilection for end-of-the-world stories, I visited “Zombieland” Friday night. It was a fun trip, the best time I’ve had at the movies this year (although “Star Trek” and “Inglourious Basterds” would give it a run for its money).
The movie stars Jesse Eisenberg (who could be Michael Cera’s brother) as Columbus (all of the characters go by the names of their hometowns), an obsessive compulsive loaner whose lack of family connections and adherence to 30-plus rules (“Cardio” to outrun the undead; “Double Tap,” two shots to the head to make sure the suckers stay down; and “Beware of Bathrooms,” sort of self-explanatory in terms of vulnerability) have made him an unlikely survivor. Despite his better judgment, he joins forces with Tallahassee, played with gusto by Woody Harrelson, a none-too-bright muscle-bound redneck with a chip on his shoulder and a flair for dispatching zombies in creative ways.
On the road, they hook up with two con-artist sisters, appealingly played by Emma Stone (“Superbad”) and Abigail Breslin (“Little Miss Sunshine”). Eventually, after coming to terms with some major trust issues, the foursome decides to embark on a harrowing cross-country trek to Pacific Playland, a California amusement park rumored to be a zombie-free zone.
These are not your father’s (or even George Romero’s) zombies. Fast on their feet and perpetually pissed off, they are cut more from the “28 Days Later” cloth, although with a higher incidence of digestive problems. No aimless shuffling for these creatures. They know what they want and how to get it.
“Zombieland” features some of the funniest one-liners in recent memory. It’s fast, smart, and surprising (I won’t give away the hilarious mid-film cameo appearance by one of my favorite actors), with more than its share of genuine jump-out-of-your-seat moments. It’s not easy to make people laugh and scare the crap out of them at the same time. “Zombieland” pulls this balancing act off nicely. You care about the characters and hope they can somehow become the “family” they’re meant to be. The movie deserves to take its place in the zombie pantheon of “Shawn of the Dead” and the original “Living Dead” trilogy.
My advice: Run (don’t shamble or shuffle) to “Zombieland.” Or as Tallahassee would say, “Time to nut up or shut up.”