Run for your life: Part of the action during the inspired opening credits for Zombieland.
Adventureland’s Jesse Eisenberg plays Columbus, a nerdy virgin with irritable bowel syndrome who’s trying to stay alive in the usual post-apocalyptic world where virus-infected zombies outnumber the remaining humans by a staggering margin. He soon teams with fellow survivor Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), a macho goof in search of the planet’s final Twinkies. While blasting away marauding ghouls, the guys eventually collide with a sister act of hustlers, Wichita (The House Bunny’s Emma Stone) and her 12-year-old sis Little Rock (Little Miss Sunshine’s Abigail Breslin). Their “names,” of course, are emotional destinations that drive these characters, as this family of orphans travels in search of human connectiveness, as Zombieland slyly morphs into a slacker-esque, existential road movie.
Those with not-so-strong stomachs should beware of the incredibly grisly yet dazzling title sequence, with humans filmed in slow motion as they run away from their hungry pursuers, yet the movie soon settles down as director Fleischer takes some cues from other zombie outings. Not the expected touches cribbed from the 2004 George A. Romero homage Shaun of the Dead, either, but rather more obscure (except for cultists) features like the bleak beauties of the 1964 Vincent Price thriller The Last Man on Earth and the tongue-in-cheek meditation of life and death found in the 1994 Rupert Everett showcase Cemetery Man.
And Fleischer employs some neat flashbacks that flesh out the foursome, notably the sisters’ scam on a horny gas-station attendant (Mike White in an uncredited cameo). These scenes provide emotional heft that stay with you even throughout the bloodthirsty set pieces.
As a horror-comedy, however, Fleischer is pretty skillful at delivering the belly laughs, too. Eisenberg offers a droll take on his sad-sack nebbish, with his character’s narrative voice-over supplying more deadpan wit as he informs viewers of his rules of survival, while Harrelson breezily incarnates his machismo-drenched loner. (“I’m not too good at farewells,” Tallahassee tells Columbus, “so, ‘That’ll do, pig.’”) And Fleischer saves his biggest movie-star cameo for the final half-hour when the quartet hits Hollywood (one zombie is dressed as Chaplin, naturally); the person’s identity has been revealed in other reviews (shame on you, Joanie’s Smoke Break), but let’s just hint that the thespian had co-starred in one of Harrelson’s older movies.
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment’s DVD of this moneymaker (the $23 million budgeted Zombieland earned more than $75 million at the box office) features a letterboxed (2.35:1) ratio version that really accentuates the colorful palette lensed by director of photography Michael Bonvillain. A fun commentary track reunites Harrelson and Eisenberg with the director and co-writers, with plenty of information about the moviemaking process, plus Harrelson letting on that the key celebrity appearance wasn’t really nailed down until a week before shooting.
Other extras include six minutes’ worth of the five inspired promotional trailers for the movie; the behind-the-scenes featurettes “In Search of Zombieland” (16 minutes) and “Zombieland Is Your Land” (12 minutes); five minutes of seven deleted scenes, with some funny bits that probably should have been left in; and a two-minute silent sequence that details a quartet of visual effects scenes, which incorporate the tricks of green screen, computer gadgetry and old-school stunt work into the finished product. There’s also the four-minute debut of Woke Up Dead, a 22-episode horror spoof starring Napoleon Dynamite’s Jon Heder that runs on the www.crackle.com site, plus 14 other trailers stroking Sony’s current DVD lineup.