This one must have sneaked past me or something. Everyone says it's a horror-comedy. I didn't laugh. Okay, I'll make an exception for the celebrity cameo, but for me the comedy began and ended with his involvement in the picture. However as it happens I'm objectively wrong. Lots of people have found this film really funny. This is a matter of public record. Maybe I'd have got a different impression if I'd seen it in a cinema, with a big crowd all getting into it? Laughter can be a communal experience.
All I can do though is describe the film I saw.
It's set in Zombieland, which used to be called America until we had a zombie apocalypse. Now the earth's living population might be in double digits and all that's left are the toughest survivors. Our hero and narrator is Jesse Eisenberg, a twitchy geek whose personality problems used to make him a loner, but now keep him alive. He makes rules. The film pays a lot of attention to them. Along the way he meets up with Woody Harrelson, who loves to kick arse, and an unpleasant pair of sisters played by Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin.
There's not a whole lot to the movie, really. Early on, we're led to think that there might be some themes or character growth. Eisenberg is savage about his character flaws, using phrases like "loner who wanted to be alone" and "paranoid shut-in". However in the end, this yields no more than the revelation that our four heroes would prefer to be together than apart. Well, duh. If nothing else, it's better for survival. In Zombieland, your number one must-have personal accessory is a Woody Harrelson. When the gang splits up for a while towards the end, it's not an expression of trust issues or a desire for independence, but instead one of stupidity.
It's all about the cast. As usual in this genre, the plot is really just them. Going through them in order... 1. Eisenberg is fine. He's a good actor. I wouldn't say I actually warmed to the character he's playing, but I thought he carried the movie just fine as both the protagonist and narrator. 2. Harrelson is magnificent. He's been given an outrageous role and he's playing it bigger than anyone else in the film. He's a redneck on the rampage for whom killing zombies is both a job and a hobby, but he also has some eccentric soft spots. He's the crowd-pleaser in the cast and if you liked this film, him you'll have loved. 3+4. Stone and Breslin did nothing for me, which I'd guess must be where I part company with the rest of the world. Stone in particular is unpleasant and I didn't see any reason to care what happens to them. Yes, they're female. Yes, Breslin is a little girl. I still fail to see why I should start giving a damn about hostile, charmless people just because I'm forced to spend time with them.
I'm puzzled by the comedy. Where is it? It's not merely that I didn't laugh, but that I can't even tell what the jokes were in the first place. Harrelson's the obvious place to start. The man's immense. Eisenberg's rules are also being treated as a big deal, popping up in on-screen text whenever he acts on one of them. This text can then get splattered with blood, knocked down by cars and so on. I can sort of see that if you were into it, this might be amusing. However apart from that and some zombie killing as gory slapstick, I'm afraid I'm stumped.
Forget all that for the celebrity cameo, though. That was good. When he's around, it's a different film.
Fanboy comment: if I were living in the aftermath of a zombie apocalypse, I might prefer aggressive sprinting zombies to the traditional "slow and brainless" ones. The runners are more predictable. If you're trying to flush out all the zombies in an area, you can do pretty well just by shouting loudly. However in a Romero film, even if you've been in a given location for days, something might have been spending all that time not knowing how to get out of a cupboard.
I was hoping to give this as a Christmas present to someone who liked Shaun of the Dead. Bad choice. That you could show to normal people, but I'd say this one's for horror fans. It's proud to be a zombie flick, in which people are getting chomped to death even before the opening credits and I'm guessing half the gags are "Woody Harrelson kills a zombie". However a lot of my reaction above was merely puzzlement at what I'd perceived to be the popular buzz and I'm happy to admit that it's very watchable. I'd have liked it more if I'd cared about Stone and Breslin, but that doesn't mean I hated it. I just didn't find myself quite connecting with its "loners finding each other" story, that's all. Harrelson's great, if nothing else. If you want corroborative evidence, it took more than $60 million in 17 days and is currently the all-time best-selling zombie film in the United States.
John Carpenter turned down a chance to direct, by the way.