Woody of the dead

Woody bats cleanup on aisle eight.

Woody bats cleanup on aisle eight.

Rated 3.0

The world is, once again, overtaken by a zombie plague and a ragtag team of human survivors head for the West Coast in Zombieland, director Ruben Fleischer’s new film, the latest to use the undead for laughs. Thankfully, the cast features an amped-up Woody Harrelson and a gracefully neurotic Jesse Eisenberg, a comic team that balances itself out quite nicely. Throw in some decent hardcore zombie gore, and you get something that is genre worthy, and a hell of a lot better than that last George Romero disaster Diary of the Dead.

Eisenberg plays Columbus, a nebbishy college student and zombie survivor trying to head home and find his family. He’s not particularly fond of his relatives, but he’s an introverted sort with nowhere else to go after the apocalypse. Acknowledging through a voiceover that he’s an unlikely candidate for zombie survival, he lists his simple keys to death avoidance in the film’s beginning minutes, dispensing such pearls of wisdom as “Buckle-up!” and “Double tap!” (put an extra bullet in a zombie just to be sure).

Columbus crosses paths with Tallahassee (Harrelson), an alpha male, cowboy hat-wearing, Twinkie-loving, crazy bastard who lets him ride along in his Cadillac Escalade. During a supermarket stop in search of the infamous, yellow, cream-filled Hostess treats, a couple of sly sisters (Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin) carjack them and leave the pair for dead. Inevitably, the four cross paths again and head west toward an amusement park where it’s rumored that more human survivors frolic on the Ferris wheel.

While the film loses some steam before its lackluster amusement park ending, there are enough laughs and old-fashioned zombie kills to keep even the most casual fans of the horror-comedy genre happy. It doesn’t hurt that Harrelson is at the top of his game here, and Zombieland features a cameo that would earn instant induction into the The Cinematic Cameo Hall of Fame, if such an establishment actually existed.

Amusing sequences include Amber Heard as 406 (named after her apartment number), who we see in a flashback. She has a touching moment, falling asleep in virgin Columbus’s arms after narrowly escaping a zombie bite … or so she claims. The moment involving the hallowed aforementioned cameo is the highlight of the movie, a feat that cannot be topped in Zombieland’s remaining minutes.

I’m not telling you who makes the cameo, and you shouldn’t look at the cast list on the Internet Movie Database or do any Google searches. Go to the movie and allow yourself to be surprised. There aren’t enough surprises in this world anymore!

Anyway, the film will draw plenty of comparisons to the far superior Shaun of the Dead, the close-to-perfect Simon Pegg horror-comedy that one-upped the likes of Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead II. Shaun was a tribute to Romero zombie films (well, the good ones), where the undead lumbered along and still captured far quicker humans for intestine buffets. Zombieland is more of a poke at the latter day zombie films.

The zombies in Zombieland are the fast-running, screaming kind, like the strain in Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later. While Shaun has that dry British wit, Zombieland goes for the more sophomoric punch of a piano landing on a zombie’s head. Actually, Zombieland has more in common with the 1985 comedy Return of the Living Dead than Shaun. That’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Like those other zombie films looking for laughs (I forgot to mention Peter Jackson’s gross howl, Dead Alive), Zombieland makes the wise decision to treat its gore and scares seriously. The movie has some good jolts and enough “Blecch!” moments to qualify it as a legitimate horror film on top of being a comedy.

It’s also a pretty effective advertisement for Twinkies. I haven’t had one of those things in years, but I kind of want one now.