Thursday, October 8, 2009

Review: Zombieland

It's gotten harder and harder to knock my socks off with a movie. Lately the honor seems reserved for sparsely set dramas that lay on the abject, self-destructive, human-condition themes fairly thick.

The trailer for Zombieland, however, had me over the moon with juvenile excitement--RJ and me both, actually. It was our favorite movie ever that we hadn't actually seen. The snappy physical comedy, unaffected cinematography, dorky lead, witty third-person omniscient observations, slow motion attacks, Van fucking Halen--what wasn't exciting? I declared it "the perfect zomedy", a sentence which physically pained me to construct, since I've said time and again that I'm no fan of neologisms, and, further, that neologistic portmanteaus are outright offensive. But in this case there was no other way to say it.

The actual movie keeps the trailer's promise by delivering all these fun features, distributed quite adequately, and more. I won't even give it away, because the second act has a prize so timeless and perfect that Harrison Ford himself would get off his Hoveround just to catch a glimpse of it.

None of this will come as any surprise to those who've been following Zombieland at all (of course, those people will have already seen it by now). It's holding steady as a B+ at Rotten Tomatoes and handily earned back its budget in the first weekend (domestic).

The weaknesses are brought by the comedy element alone, and are fine examples to illustrate why I don't care for comedies in general: Dialog is dedicated to larfs rather than nuanced exposition of well-thought-out characters, so it's hard to care when disaster (or even love) befalls them.

Secondly, similarly, and tragically (I say "tragically" because it cropped up at the very end, leaving a sour taste in my mouth about the film overall), the comedy actually irreparably undercut the climax. I'm giving away little (and even less worth preserving) when I say the movie's last act takes place in an amusement park that a couple of characters had been trekking to, thinking it a safe haven. Obviously, this Shangri-La gives the film its name, and would have done so from the concept stage of production, when, perhaps, the characters were more fluid and the tone of the film, like a flan in the oven, was not yet set. It's a crime that the first sixty minutes of the movie grew to be something downright remarkable but, due to the locked-in title, (if my projections are correct) that stupid finale in the stupid theme park had to stay. Nevermind that it makes no logical sense on any scale, that savvy characters become as hapless children when they set foot in Pacific Playland. Nevermind even that the very goal of getting these streetwise characters to the park necessitates a precipitate string of out-of-character decisions.

BAH. Nevermind. I'm going back to thinking about the great parts, and there are many.

Does this flick knock Shaun of the Dead off the throne? That's subjective, a matter of taste. There would be no Zombieland without Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright, I'm sure, but the quality of the former is undeniable. It's close enough, though, that there will be a hearty debate in horror-geek circles on the topic for years to come. And that's refreshing.

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