Tuesday, October 20, 2009
ZOMBIELAND - We're what's for dinner....
Directed by Ruben Fleischer
Produced by Gavin Polone
Written by Paul Wernick
Starring: Woody Harrelson
As I sit down and reflect on Zombieland I find my mind racing in to some very unlikely territory. Kevin Spacey, believe it or not, in 1995. I'm thinking about “Seven” and “The Usual Suspects”. Two films who's grip on their audience was based on trajectory, of careening towards startling and iconic sequences that are synonymous with any post viewing dialog anyone would have. These two movies have what I like to refer to as “Brick wall” scenes that are intended to see an audience in a collective slack jawed “whoaa”.These moments are hinted at in every review, on the tip of every critic's tongue, and used by your worst kept company to ruin the picture for you less than a week following its release.
You almost forgot that I'm talking about a film concerning one mans hunt through zombie ravaged USA for a Twinkie, didn't you?
Zombieland, the zombie genre's big time breadwinner at the box office this year, is a blast of gallows humor even more concerned with busting guts than eating them, a truly valiant effort considering the amount of blood shed, sprayed and showered throughout the course of this lean hour and a half. The picture opens with a series of zombie apocalypse survival tips courtesy of neurotic protagonist “Columbus” played by Jesse Eisenberg (of “The Squid and the whale” fame, not “Juno”s Michael Cera despite what your friends told you). The introductory segment preaches the virtues of practicality, safety, cardio, and 'double tapping'(and from a virgin no less!) as a way of answering the question “How is this sissy still alive?” before anyone has the chance to even ask.
Enter alpha-male counter point “Tallahassee” played with gleeful swagger by Woody Harrelson, thus setting up the Odd Couple with Zombies vibe for maximum laughs as a baffled Eisenberg watches the sadistic Harrelson mutilate, decapitate and rend the undead limb from limb with the greatest of ease. They travel across the country sharing just enough back-story with one another to break up the R rated slapstick as Eisenberg tries to reach a home he doesn't really care about and Harrelson searches ceaselessly for a box of twinkies.
Eventually they encounter two swindling sisters played by Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin (Little miss sunshine herself), who are on their way to a theme park in California that they loved as young children and that is rumored to be conveniently devoid of zombies. Stone and Breslin spend the better half of thirty minutes outsmarting the other two for all they're worth before Eisenberg talks them in to sticking together for a while. Then we turn a corner too fast and BOOM, we've hit the aforementioned “Brick Wall”.
I'm sure by now, provided you're an interested party, you've heard rumblings of the big cameo in Zombieland that many would argue is worth the price of admission alone. It is without a doubt the most discussed scene in this movie and is so out of left field that it's hard not to appreciate it for its irreverence. It is unbelievably funny, honestly. Despite that, this is where Zombieland runs in to some trouble that it never manages to get out of.
After hitting you early with the brick wall, the makers of Zombieland give you time to recuperate from what you've seen, to turn to your friends and yell “Really?!?” along with the rest of the audience. This recuperation period is at least ten minutes long, and it may as well have been the subject of the cameo shaking hands with the director and turning to the camera to declare “Aren't we clever? How random are we?! I can just stand here doing nothing and generate laughs! I'm a human whoopie cushion!”, and for a movie that had spent it's first two acts intelligently weaving humor and viscera together, this came across as a late game turn around for the worse. Zombieland's major fault lies in what is perceived to be its major victory.
It is not uncommon structurally for a zombie picture's third act to begin in a calm, safe place, the trend setter in this regard undoubtedly being '78's “Dawn of the Dead”. The survivors find themselves alive and secure, but we also see the emotional claustrophobia and monotony set in, the natural tension of the caged human animal realizing just how fleeting comfort is, isolation, sadness, oncoming madness. Some pretty heavy stuff. In Zombieland we are given this refractory period either as a breather after the big cameo, or simply because the people behind the movie have run out of jokes. Either way, they never manage to pick up the pace afterwords as we are left with a stagnant and pointless sight gag in place of an exciting climax.
When an intelligent, cerebral piece of work loses it's footing towards the end, sometimes the questions it posed survive and its misgivings can be overlooked or even reassessed to a certain degree. Perhaps we were missing the point? Was it over my head? However, when a film spends the majority of its duration building a solid foundation on great lowbrow laughs and action, I can't help but feel cheated when they can't keep even that up until the end.
Come on, guys. We're not asking you to sort out who Kaiser Soze really is or something....