Zombieland (2009)

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*. After peak zombie (circa. 2007) we may think of the zombie genre as having entered a decadent phase.
*. Yet another zombie comedy suggests the genre has reached a critical mass and gone into decline. Shaun of the Dead was so much better: scarier, funnier, smarter.
*. Director Ruben Fleischer said he wanted Midnight Run with zombies. Huh? I guess.
*. This is one of those movies that actually amazed me by how bad it was. But I seem to remember it getting generally positive reviews when it came out. Why? I understand it doing good box office, but it’s crap.
*. The screenplay was originally conceived of as a one-hour pilot for a television series. When they turned it into a feature they tacked on all the amusement park stuff to pad out the running time. So if you think the journey to Pacific Playland at the end seems forced . . . you’re right.
*. It really isn’t a screenplay at all, in my opinion. Instead, it’s just a concept: a misfit-buddies-on-the-road picture with zombies. The only narrative force is the odyssey to the amusement park and Tallahassee’s quest to find Twinkies.
*. The zombie virus has its origin in a tainted burger, being a mutation of mad cow disease (the film opens in Texas, and the characters drive by what looks like an empty stockyard at one point, which may, given this movie, be a tip of the hat to the The Texas Chain Saw Massacre). Perhaps the vegan Woody Harrelson had some input in all of this.
*. Speaking of chainsaws, why does Emma Stone have one on the poster for this movie? We never see her with one, even in any of the deleted scenes. That’s false advertising.
*. Jesse Eisenberg seems miscast to me, as though he knows he’s superior to this material and is just acting dumb.
*. Columbus tells us that he always avoided other people as zombies even before the apocalypse. He’s also a World of Warcraft shut-in, so he should be used to thinking of other people merely as targets.
*. It’s typical of zombie films to undercut the significance and importance of family. If your significant other has joined the living dead then there’s no point being sentimental about it. Indeed, sentiment is a mortal threat. You should just kill them and get it over with. This movie would seem to go against that by affirming the re-establishment of a family unit among the four survivors, but what’s really happened is that we’re in a world where, even before the zombie apocalypse, family has ceased to function. Columbus has a family, but he’s very clear that he doesn’t care about them at all. Tallahassee was perhaps a single father, but that’s all gone now as well. We don’t see families breaking up because they’re already a thing of the past, just as Columbus has always thought of other people as zombies to be avoided.
*. We are also in the world of juvenile fantasy. Of course all the girls Columbus meets post-outbreak are hot.
*. What’s with all the film references? The killing of the hot chick next door (Room 406) echoes Psycho (the shower curtains torn off) and Saw (the toilet lid used to brain her). Of course the gang have to go to L.A. and Hollywood to hide out at Bill Murray’s house. They watch and play-act Ghostbusters. Murray’s “one regret” is Garfield (a really forced in-joke). Tallahasee’s good-bye is identified by Columbus as ripped off from a movie, and when he cries he compares it to how he cried when he saw Titanic. ’97 is a good year because it’s when Wichita saw her first R-rated movie (though Anaconda wasn’t an R-rated movie). Even the plot seems ripped off of the Griswold’s trip to Walley World in Vacation.
*. I don’t like Wichita and Little Rock. Before the zombie apocalypse they’re just a pair of grifters, and after . . . well, they keep doing the same thing. Even though co-operating with Columbus and Tallahassee would have made far more sense, as they’re no threat and are always willing to go along with whatever the girls want to do. I mean, why ditch them at Bill Murray’s house? They were going to go to Pacific Playland and might have been useful there. On the commentary the excuse given is that Wichita felt she was becoming too vulnerable. You can take that for what you think it’s worth.
*. Also on the commentary, it’s said that the ring scam they pull displays the traits that make them survivors in Zombieland. But how so? How useful a skill is scamming people when there are virtually no other people left alive to scam? The only people they can con are Columbus and Tallahassee, which does them no good.
*. Why are so few women included on DVD commentaries? Here there were a couple of possibilities, but the crowded commentary just has director, the two male stars, and two male screenwriters.

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*. The Twinkie gag wasn’t funny in the first place and doesn’t get any better with repetition.
*. What has happened, to us, that the obligatory shopping scene (recognized as such in 28 Days Later) has been replaced by an orgy of vandalism, smashing up the Kemo Sabe gift shop? According to Fleischer, test audiences didn’t even like it, finding it “gratuitous.” He, on the other hand, found it “lyrical and cool.” To each their own. Meanwhile, we never see these guys getting the things they need, like fuel and food. The one trip to the grocery store has Tallahassee looking as usual for Twinkies.
*. Going on the Blast Off ride at the amusement park as a way of escaping the zombies is so contrived it hurts. On the commentary they even apologize for it.
*. Perhaps I’m being too hard on this movie, calling it crap. But I thought it was lazily conceived and I didn’t like any of the leads except for Harrelson. As for what larger message it might be making, the only one I could see is that Americans have a right to expensive fun. As Van Halen roar in our ears: everybody wants some.
*. In a way, we’ve come full circle from Dawn of the Dead. Instead of a satire of consumerism we have a celebration of it: a quest for the promised land of mindless entertainment and those tasty golden bars. These are the twenty-first century survivors: nomads drawn to L.A. to sleep in the bedrooms of the rich and famous while they wipe away their tears with money and trade movie references hipster-style. Family (old people) are forgotten even before they’re dead, leaving youth to frolic through Disneyland in their Hummers and SUVs, guns blazing, just like a videogame. Yes, thirty years after Romero, we’ve come to this.

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