Friday, April 9, 2010
Zombieland (2009) comes barreling out of the gate with more energy and imagination than a film comedy has shown in quite a few years. The 3D animated "rules of survival" are a surprisingly durable joke. The four principals (Jesse Eisenberg in his second "-land" film of 2009, Woody Harrelson, the irreplaceable Abigail Breslin and Emma Stone, showing she is ready to step out and carry a movie) come loaded for bear, ready to kick butt and take names and there are a couple of nice story switches that really work (at least the first time).
Zombie movies usually have an element of metaphor, and it seems as though it is going to go that way during the prologue. But clearly, the zombie-ness of zombies is not terribly important to the filmmakers. They're not all that scary, and in a sense not even essential to the character of the film. Any threat would have done--rabid coyotes, killer tomatoes, accountants on stilts, whatever. The essence of the film is a road movie plus "misfits coalesce into a family." And that works nicely, particularly as the new family gleefully trashes a junky gift shop together.
Then, for no good reason, the travelers enter the greater Los Angeles area. (Note to filmmakers--Los Angeles is only interesting to people who live there. New York is a world capital, Chicago is an exciting vibrant place, Washington is the seat of power. Los Angeles is Columbus with money and narcissism.) There is one absolutely side-splitting, daring and hysterical plot development at about the 2/3rds mark, which I do not wish to spoil. Then there's a little character bonding, which is harmless, and then the film is off to a loud, fast, nonsensical and ultimately disappointing finale.
Setting the final act in an amusement park: pretends to be based on character, but is only attached by a thin thread (the two girls were happy there and they heard a rumor it was zombie-free--which makes no sense as soon as you hear it); it makes no narrative sense--in fact none of the geography in the film makes any sense at all. How can two characters be traveling together across the MidWest to Talahassee and Columbus and then go to Los Angeles because the two girls who keep scamming them want to go there? The whole place is a big dead end. And ultimately it turns out to be visually uninteresting and sparks some very unoriginal stunts and gags, with really no pay-off for the film as a whole. It is obvious this was tacked on to the screenplay (a fact confirmed by the director) because the brilliant "Rules for Survival" never appears in the entire sequence, as if the writers had fled in horror by what the director and producers had done to their clever little movie. A very sad and incompetent come-down for what had been a smart little picture.
I mean, how can you top shooting down Zombie Charlie Chaplin? (Well, actually, they do top that one, but you're going to have to see the film to find out what I mean.)