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‘Zombieland’ infects audiences

Every one of us has to live by our own set of rules. Some rules tell us how to behave socially, while others may guide our ethical decisions. In director Ruben Fleischer’s maiden film “Zombieland,” a young man named Columbus doesn’t bother himself with guidelines of those sorts. He has written his own set of rules with a single distinct purpose: keeping himself alive in a land of the dead.

Fleischer’s paints a comedic picture of a world overrun by America’s favorite fiend in “Zombieland.” While most non-sequel zombie films depict the outbreak and spread of a zombie epidemic (think “Resident Evil” and “Dawn of the Dead”), this one places viewers in the fallout, in a world where a virulent strain of Mad Cow Disease has already turned the U.S. into the Unites States of Zombieland.

The film follows a young man named Columbus, played by Jesse Eisenberg, whose fearful and neurotic nature make him an unlikely hero. Eisenberg narrates the story and lists off his rules of zombie survival, which seem plucked from a cache of horror-movie clichés (Rule number 3: always check the back seat).

Columbus soon joins up with a mismatched group of survivors, including the standoffish but beautiful Wichita, played by Emma Stone and the spritely Little Rock,“My Sister’s Keeper” star Abigail Breslin and set off towards an unclear goal of finding “home.” The survivors are known to one another only by the names of their intended destinations (i.e. Wichita and Columbus) and trust is a major theme that runs throughout the movie.

Eisenberg, who seems to channel Michael Cera throughout most of “Zombieland,” does a good job at being the reluctant hero, but calling him the star of the film would not be exactly accurate. The real star of the show is Woody Harrelson, who plays the zombie-killing savant Tallahassee. The Twinkie-loving cowboy upstages the action in a good way, and according to Columbus, “When Tallahassee goes zombie killing, he sets the standard for ‘not to be fucked with’.”

Harrelson also notoriously garnered attention after production wrapped for “Zombieland,” after an abrasive run-in at La Guardia airport.  An aggressive photog prompted him to launch into what he later claimed was zombie survival mode. Clearly, the paparazzo in question hadn’t caught a sneak peak at any trailers for the impending film.   

Back in “Zombieland,” director Ruben Fleischer doesn’t skimp on the gore when it comes to the shambling dead, and the death scenes often seem over the top. Scenes of zombies feeding are particularly gruesome, and whenever the survivors decide to kill one of the infected, they see it through. The levels of blood are significant but not overwhelming, and despite the brain smatterings it is not by most standards a scary movie. Those who are particularly squeamish should most likely stay away, but “Nightmare on Elm Street” this is not.

While the fear factor in “Zombieland” is not as high as it is in others in the ghoulish genre, horror is not exactly the point. The fact that the film shies away from the gritty, “28 Days Later”-style scares draws instant comparison to 2004’s zom-com romp, “Shaun of the Dead,” but such a parallel is not quite fair. While “Shaun” was a dark comedy and a parody of the zombie genre, “Zombieland” is an extension of it, carving out its own particular vein of “action-zombedy.”

This may seem like an odd combination of concepts, but “Zombieland” makes it work beautifully. The action is top-notch, with Woody Harrelson blasting his way across the country in style, bringing a sick sense of humor to the zombie-killing business. The film keeps the action fresh throughout the story, and whether the weapon is a banjo or an Escalade, de-animating the damned has never been so funny.

The human side of “Zombieland” is also well done, making it hard not to root for the survivors no matter what circumstances they find themselves in. Fans of zombie fiction will certainly be pleased by this farcical romp through the land of the living dead, and anyone who doesn’t mind seeing a bit of brains would do well to make the trip to “Zombieland.”

Andrew Sheridan can be reached at Asher1@student.umass.edu

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