director: Ruben Fleischer; screenwriters: Rhett Reese/Paul Wernick; cinematographer: Michael Bonvillain; editors: Peter Amundson/Alan Baumgarten; music: David Sardy; cast: Woody Harrelson (Tallahassee), Jesse Eisenberg (Columbus), Emma Stone (Wichita), Abigail Breslin (Little Rock), Amber Heard (406), Bill Murray (himself), Derek Graf (Clown Zombie); Runtime: 87; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Gavin Polone; Columbia Pictures; 2009)

“Benefits greatly from the appealing goofy performances by Woody Harrelson and Jesse Eisenberg.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Ruben Fleischer (“The Girls Guitar Club”) helms this inspired nonsense cartoonish zombie comedy that’s not particularly witty (its humor is mainly sight gags and physical comedy) but benefits greatly from the appealing goofy performances by Woody Harrelson and Jesse Eisenberg. The thin story line authored by TV writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick keeps it B-film friendly and vulgar enough to appeal to its mainstream young adult fan base that seem to gobble up these “Shaun of the Dead” subgenre zombie flicks as if they were Twinkies.

The film’s voice of reason narrator is a nebbish, phobic, untrusting, loner college student in Austin, Texas, who will soon go by the handle of Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg). The world has been taken over by the undead due to a deadly virus and Columbus is one of the few human survivors, who lives by a series of rules he conforms to. The numerous rules, which becomes an unfunny running gag throughout, include always wearing a seat belt when in a vehicle to always checking the bathroom stalls in a public rest stop.

Columbus’s first experience with zombies comes when his hot coed neighbor (Amber Heard) hysterically seeks shelter in his pad after attacked by a homeless person, and the next morning turns into a zombie who attacks him. The shut-in loner student complains that this is the first girl he ever trusted and she ends up trying to eat him.

After Columbus is left stranded on the road without transportation, the timid lad meets up with a gun-toting roughneck who goes by the handle of Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson). Tallahassee, wishing to avoid any emotional attachments due to the zombiedom predicament, is actually the one who dubs the college student Columbus because he wishes to return to his Ohio hometown to see if his parents are still alive. The opposites somehow make a connection–the over cautious genteel Columbus is impressed by the badass redneck’s fearless attitude of killing zombies and the gruff cowboy finds a warm spot in his heart for the sincere soft-spoken virgin.

The men run into two seemingly innocent sisters, the hottie teen Wichita (Emma Stone) and the younger 12-year-old Little Rock (Abigail Breslin). It turns out the sisters are grifters and steal the guy’s SUV and rifles. The boys reload and run into the sisters again on the road and they form a reluctant foursome, with Columbus drooling over Wichita as his dream girl and Tallahassee obsessed with chowing down on Twinkies. When the foursome land in Hollywood, they follow a map of the stars to Bill Murray’s mansion, where they meet the star (who is only slightly funny in his cameo). They then move onto a southern California amusement park. There the fearless foursome take on a horde of attacking zombies and the bodies pile up as they mindlessly find it fun to destroy whatever they can.

There’s no redeeming social value, as Zombieland works strictly as a guilty pleasure entertainment vehicle–an attempt to get laughs by kicking zombie ass and showing the crude side of life as fun and by tacking on a sentimental romantic side story of having the nice-guy nerdy hero score the bad girl hottie-chick–who in real life he probably only visits in his wet dreams.

REVIEWED ON 10/4/2009  GRADE: B-