Zombie wood, people. Spend 90 minutes in Zombieland, and you will walk out with an all-out pound-a-stranger up against a hospital wall zombie erection. And you will ride that wood until there’s hair in your teeth, blood on the wall, and it’s time to consult a doctor because your four hours are over, motherfucker, and you’re still sporting a full-on zombie chubby. Zombieland is that good, and in an era when the zombie subgenre has been pricked, poked, gouged, and pulled in every iteration, sometimes it’s nice to go back to basics: It’s not about pet zombies, or Nazi zombies, zombie porn, or capturing zombies on camera for the YouTube masses. Neither is it about fast zombies, slow zombies, smart zombies or dumb zombies. A good zombie movie — and nothing has approached Zombieland in pure goodness since Shaun of the Dead — is about killing zombies, plain and goddamn simple. In Zombieland, director Ruben Fleishcher is in the zombie-killin’ business. And business is boomin’.
Of course, if you’re looking for plot, for narrative complexity, or for layers of intricacy, you’re chewing off the wrong gangrenous stump, asshole. At its core, Zombieland is a road-trip movie. Hell, it’s National Lampoon’s Vacation with zombies, complete with a West Coast amusement part destination. Holiday motherfucking Road, y’all. The Griswolds here are Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), Wichita (Emma Stone), and Little Rock (Abigal Breslin), so named because revealing their actual names might invite familiarity, which is not something you want during a zombie apocalypse where connections with love ones can buy you an Undeath Certificate. Columbus — the Eisenbergian lead and formerly a phobic shut-in with questionable hymen intactness, provides the narration, which mostly amounts to rattling off a set of rules for surviving a zombie apocalypse. He’s got 32, but the three most important seem to be 1) stay in shape; 2) wear your seatbeat; and 3) don’t forget the double tap — why settle for killing a zombie once when twice is not only more safe, but a lot more satisfying? Tallahassee is running from a loss, searching for some Twinkies, and realizing that his one talent in life is annihilation of zombies. And he is really fucking good at it. Meanwhile, Wichita and Little Rock are sisters, protective of one another, and distrustful of everyone else. The four meet up at various points during the first act and make their way to the Pacific Palisades amusement park, where the younger sister believes there’s a haven from zombies in a world otherwise overrun with them.
To say much more about the storyline would be pointless, needlessly reductive, and it’d ruin all the fun. Zombieland is a movie built around frenetic, stylized (but not overly so) zombie kills, and the burgeoning relationship between possibly the only people on the planet that haven’t been infected by a zombie virus (origins unknown, unexplained, and who the fuck cares?). The script (from Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick) is flat-out phenomenal — there’s enough fist-pumping one-liners to make Ash Williams proud, and enough winks and nods to Romero and the rest of zombie lore to satisfy a Parkinson’s sufferer. And beneath the exploding heads, the delicious slo-more gore, and a few jump-scares that will give you hernias, there’s also a genuinely sweet love story at play — Eisenberg and Stone are the cutest goddamn couple since Jim and Pam. Moreover, Woody Harrelson hasn’t been this good since Natural Born Killers — a shit-kicking bad ass with enough attitude to launch a line of hair products. Emma Stone is her usual sultry-ass self; Breslin, believe it or not, delivers the best deadpan; and Eisenberg plays, well, Eisenberg — the best self-deprecating, nebbish hipster in Hollywood. And by order of the movie critic code, and under penalties of zombie death, I refuse to reveal anything about the extended cameo on Zombieland, except to say this: It deserves a series of one-word sentences in the most superlative nature imaginable.
The signature line in Zombieland, which you’ve heard enough if you’ve seen the trailers, is ‘Nut Up or Shut Up.’ At this point, the best thing I can do as a reviewer is the latter, allowing the movie to do all the nutting up you could possibly need. But if you like zombie movies, horror comedies, or the joyously inventive massacre of the undead, I cannot recommend Zombieland enough. See it. Take a friend. Take your domesticated zombie. Just go. And 20 years from now, when you’re kids are experiencing Zombieland for the first time at a midnight showing on their college campus, you can tell them you saw it the first time around. And if the world is obliterated by a zombie apocalypse between now and then, at least you’ll have a few rules to live by.
Dustin Rowles is the publisher of Pajiba. You can email him or leave a comment below.