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Zombieland 

A lively comic romp through the land of the undead

click to enlarge Among the living: Jesse Eisenberg and Woody Harrelson
  • Among the living: Jesse Eisenberg and Woody Harrelson

Now that the world leaders, National Guard and protesters have left town, it's time to focus on those troublesome citizens Pittsburgh truly cares about: zombies.

In the near-future, the United States has been virtually wiped out by a virus that turns humans into voracious, undead flesh-eaters. Welcome to Zombieland. There's only a handful of uninfected people left, and in Ruben Fleisher's comedy, four of them band together for a road trip, hoping to find a zombie-free settlement. 

Our guide is "Columbus" (Jesse Eisenberg), a nervous, nerdy college kid who hooks up with "Tallahassee" (Woody Harrelson), a wise-crackin' good ole boy, with a big "3" painted on the side of his jacked Escalade. Both are loners, but form an uneasy alliance, especially after hooking up with two devious gals, "Wichita" (Emma Stone) and her kid sister, "Little Rock" (Abigail Breslin). In Zombieland, there are no more names, just hometowns that used to be.

Both in structure and tone, Zombieland owes much to Edgar Wright's 2004 rom-com-zom Shaun of the Dead, while expanding the premise slightly: This is a rom-com-zom-road trip. But then again, few genres are as heavy with "homage" as zombie is, so who's worried?

Like Shaun, Zombieland parcels out zombie-fu, and the interstitial material is just as entertaining. The film -- which feels loose, but is a compact 86 minutes -- is bouncy with pop-culture riffs, throwaway gags and a movie-star cameo everybody will be laughing about. 

When not dealing with the hungry undead, our four reluctant warriors engage in the expected round of bonding and coming to new understandings. But fear not: The one brief moment of mawkish sentimentality is quickly saved by a joke about mawkish sentimentality. This story is the fun side of zombie hell.

Eisenberg (Adventureland) and Harrelson play familiar roles, and Stone is the tough hottie. It's Breslin who carves out a new character for future horror-comedies. She portrays a normal teen-age girl, not hampered by being giggly, neurotic or scared; naturally, she loves shooting things and has never heard of Willie Nelson. Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine) is believable in a way that a more mainstream tweener actress would not be. (Though I would seriously pay to see Miley Cyrus in a death-match with flesh-eaters.) In fact, if this film has a wilting violet, it's Eisenberg's Columbus, who gets "crazy" with Mountain Dew and has irritable bowel syndrome.

All that aside, folks go to zombie movies to see zombies get killed, and rest assured, Zombieland raises (or lowers, depending on your perspective) the bar on how to take down the undead. This film treats zombie execution with profound glee -- and lots of comic splatter -- even breaking out of the narrative to share particularly good zombie kills occurring elsewhere.

Of course, you'll have your pick for which undead trouble-maker is the most horrifyingly delightful. But it's hard to top one of the zombies from the film's prologue: a large-breasted, topless stripper-zombie, gore dripping from her mouth and dollar bills still flapping from her G-string. Just another day in Zombieland.

 

Starts Fri., Oct. 2

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