Wal-Mart greeters in the zombie apocalypse are even scarier than normal.

Golden Mug

Editing (Alan Baumgarten)

Theatrical Release Date: 10/02/2009
Director: Ruben Fleischer
Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone, Abigail Breslin, Amber Heard

Wait a minute, Ian is reviewing this? Yes, you read the byline correctly. This big wuss went and checked out “Zombieland” and low and behold, it may be one of my favorite films of the year.

Now, for those of you out there that enjoy zombie films, rest assured there are plenty of them on display and there’s enough blood being spit up to fill a small swimming pool. I’m sure the more hardcore out there may end up wanting more scares and horror but the balance being tread here will allow the timid to enjoy this one too.

There may be some zombie purists out there who say that these aren’t true zombies. That’s technically correct, the ones in “Zombieland” are infected humans rather than undead monsters. Think more like “28 Days Later” than “Night of the Living Dead”. But that’s semantics and as long as you’re not ultra-protective of zombie lore, you’re going to be okay with this.

It all begins with a good script by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick. Originally commissioned as a TV series, this was to be the pilot movie to kick things off. However, after seeing how expensive the series would be, the project transitioned into a feature film.

Reese and Wernick retooled the script to make the change work better (like having a more resolute ending) and turned in a story that allowed the audience to connect with each of the four main characters, to make us care if any of them might not make it through the whole ordeal.

Aiding them is first time feature film director Ruben Fleischer. Rather than let his previous music video experience be a crutch, Fleischer made sure to keep the action coming, the laughs rolling (allowing the actors to ad lib a lot and using the best stuff in the finished product) and incorporated a great soundtrack (like with a fantastic opening credits sequence set to Metallica’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls”). It will be interesting to see if the promise he showed in this film will carryover to whatever comes next (“Zombieland 2″?).

Of course, the main reason the film succeeds is really smart casting. Known only by the name ‘Tallahassee’, Woody Harrelson simply shines in this role and I’m not being facetious in saying it’s one of the top five performance I’ve seen this year. The character is a perfect blend of toughness and vulnerability, paternal instincts and immaturity, no-nonsense and goofiness. In fact, Tallahassee might just become as iconic a character as Snake Pliskin, Ash or John McClane. Time will tell on that one.

Technically though, the lead role goes to Jesse Eisenberg. His character narrates the film and gives the audience the key rules one should follow in a zombie apocalypse. I won’t sugar coat it – I don’t really like him as an actor. He’s been one note through all of his previous roles and I figured he’d be the weak link.

However, I must admit that I was dead wrong on this account and that Hallie’s older brother was perfect for the role. A nerdy, scared kid who would really like to get laid before he gets turned into a hors d’oeuvre, Eisenberg balances occasional moments of bravery and intelligence with the more frequent bouts of fear and conservatism.

Joining our two heroes on a road trip west towards what they hope is safer territory, Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin join the fray. And while not fully plot devices, their roles are more concerned with moving the story along than simply goofing around with the boys. Still, that doesn’t stop either of them from making the most of their roles and adding their own fun (Breslin’s ad lib about Hannah Montana was one of the funniest lines).

From a gore and action perspective, there a decent amount going on in “Zombieland”. The opening credits are chock full of blood vomiting zombies and each encounter with the infected brings about more bodily fluids and flesh rendering. This tapers off some towards the end as the film mostly becomes an action comedy (with a little zombie flair) but by that point, audiences should be so engaged that it doesn’t matter.

If you like zombies and you like to laugh, I’d say this was a need to see film and because of that, I’m giving “Zombieland” a 5 out of 5. Everything about the production was top notch and whenever I was hoping something would happen, it did. Even the fairly typical and predictable end didn’t sway me from having a fantastic time in the theater (minus all of my jumping and cowering).

One HUGE note for those of you who see the flick. DO NOT LEAVE UNTIL AFTER THE CREDITS!!! There’s a little something after all the credits go by for fans of a certain 80s comedy. I can’t say which one because it would ruin the surprise and hint at the surprise guest star but trust me, it’s so worth the wait. Besides, even if you don’t read the credits, you’ll be chatting with your friends about favorite zombie kills for that long anyway.