3 stars out of 4
With the notable exception of vampires, no horror sub-genre has endured longer or reinvented itself more than zombie flicks. It's also one of the few branches of horror that can include humor without jeopardizing its visceral impact, something rookie feature director Ruben Fleischer takes full advantage of here.
Shot almost exclusively in the Atlanta metro area, "Zombieland" contains the similar social commentary and laconic wit of "Shaun of the Dead" within the context of a road movie. The plot isn't overly original, but it delivers hearty chuckles, copious graphic violence and has almost everything any die-hard zombie aficionado could want.
After one of the most imaginatively conceived and hilarious opening title sequences in horror history, the movie bursts out of the starting gate at a quick clip and, save for a crucial, 10-minute, momentum-killing passage halfway through, it never lets up.
Essentially recycling his role in this years' "Adventureland," Jesse Eisenberg plays a smart but too-serious elder teen lacking anything resembling a clue when it comes to romance or social skills. He is, however, very good at avoiding capture by zombies and is one of only a handful of uninfected survivors in a world now ruled by the undead. With the help of some well-chosen graphics, Eisenberg the narrator offers up a running series of zombie "survival tips" that, though sometimes redundant, never grows stale.
Eisenberg's character quickly meets the one played by Woody Harrelson who is sure their time together will be limited and insists on referring to each other with the less-intimate names of their respective home towns. Eisenberg becomes Columbus and Harrelson is Tallahassee.
Bold, assured and oozing machismo, Tallahassee doesn't initially care for Columbus but for reasons of having company - or considering him as possible bait - he tolerates him. With all of the death and carnage surrounding him, all Tallahassee wants is to do is munch on a Twinkie, a quest he maintains for the duration of the movie.
The guys end up crossing paths with sisters Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) who turn out to be crafty grifters. Though they might hate to admit it, the girls ultimately realize that if they're ever going to make it to California unscathed, they'll need Tallahassee's brawn and Columbus' brains.
Despite virtually every conceivable road flick cliche, the quartet's spunky banter and constant one-upmanship between the sexes keeps everything interesting. It is when they reach California and the home of a famous actor playing his or herself does the action stall.
At the insistence of the studio, the identity of the surprise guest is to remain a secret, although any rudimentary Internet search will quickly solve this mystery. Although the actor doesn't overstay his welcome, the quartet does so while doing a whole lot of nothing at his home and it takes the entirety of the third act to make up for this considerable narrative gaffe.
While offering sufficient closure, the movie (like all horror productions) leaves lots of room for a possible follow-up and if it were to be half as good as this spirited original, it would be a well-received sequel. (Sony/Columbia)