Josh Wolk's Pop Culture Club talks 'Zombieland': Did it have enough brains?

zombieland-woody_lWelcome back to the Pop Culture Club, and before we begin, I should alert any newcomers that as this “Club” has all ostensibly seen Zombieland, there will be spoilers galore that will ruin your enjoyment of the movie should you choose to see it later. (That, by the way, was the longest possible way to say “spoiler alert.”)

I should start by saying that I work with many diehard zombiephiles. The kind who know every George A. Romero movie, and, after reading this post’s headline, are now itching to give an irritated lecture about how zombies don’t actually eat brains…as if accepting the walking undead is perfectly logical, but brain-eating isn’t. I went to see this movie with EW’s Dalton Ross, and when we walked out, I said, “I’m just checking: Was 28 Days Later the first movie where zombies sprinted instead of staggered?” And he replied, “That’s actually a controversial question…” and gave me his PhD dissertation on how he strongly believes that staggering is the only true way for a zombie to perambulate. Yes or no, Ross!

I, however, am not a zombie know-it-all. I’ve dabbled in zombie 101: saw 28 Days Later (freaked me out), the remake of Dawn of the Dead (freaked me out more), Shaun of the Dead (ha!), and read World War Z (the fake oral history of the great zombie war, a fascinating bit of wildly organized imagination). But – heresy upon heresy – I don’t think I’ve seen any of Romero’s movies. In other words, I’m a casual zombieist; I mention this to point out that I didn’t come to this movie as a purist who demanded that attention should be paid to the rich tradition of blood-dripping mouths.

Now, I’d give Zombieland a B, and to explain why, here were its pros and cons:

PRO: Snappy dialogue that was funny and winky without mocking the zombie premise. A lot of subtly delivered lines (“You almost knocked over your alcohol with your knife”; “This is so exciting, you’re about to learn who you’re gonna call: Ghostbusters”) that seemed airlifted in from a Judd Apatow movie.

CON: The script suffered from the overschematic disorder I call “redemption for everybody!” syndrome. (Or REDFEV, as it’s known in my own head.) I’ve discussed this before: it’s when a movie methodically parcels out the characters’ fears and hopes through the movie, only so, in the climax, they can confront/overcome/realize each of them, one at a time. Jesse Eisenberg’s Columbus wants to brush a girl’s hair behind her ear (done!), Woody Harrelson’s Tallahassee wants a Twinkie (look, there’s one!), and Columbus is scared of clowns (jeez, what’s hackier than a fear of clowns? Oh, never mind – there’s one, go kill him!).

PRO: Great cast. I’ll try to put aside my Cheers fetish to objectively say OH WOODY HARRELSON, YOU CAN DO NO WRONG! Whoops, guess I didn’t put it away after all. But what an interesting career: few sitcom actors have so aggressively and wickedly shucked off their TV persona. From White Man Can’t Jump to Natural Born Killers to The People vs. Larry Flynt, it’s all been a merry wallow in misanthropy, whether of the self-centered or sociopathic variety. Now when I look at him I can’t imagine how I could possibly have bought him as an aw-shucks dope. Granted, there was that time Woody turned into a vicious snob after he and Kelly traveled to Europe but…whoops, sorry, enough Cheers. Anyway, I also liked Eisenberg, although I don’t buy his hype as the “multi-dimensional Michael Cera”; he’s had the same meek-but-clever nerd persona in everything I’ve seen him in, even if it’s not quite as mannered as Cera’s shtick.

CON: Logic lapses. As I mentioned above, I know it’s crazy to demand logic in a zombie movie, but you gotta give me something. That’s my deal with all fantasy blockbusters: I will suspend my disbelief as long as you don’t take advantage of it. Wouldn’t an amusement park (let alone one at night) be the worst place to go to keep away from zombies? Why not go play in a spotlight factory? And really, Wichita, you thought strapping yourself into a ride on top of easily scalable girders was a good escape route? And Columbus: if you had an entire bag of automatic weapons to choose from, why would you opt for a double-barreled shotgun as your firearm of choice? What, there were no muskets available? Again, these may seem petty, but if my brain had a second to process these disconnects, then it meant that the movie wasn’t working hard enough to keep me in its absurd world.

PRO: Bill Murray. It’s been too long since we’ve seen Murray’s comic, faux-smarmy persona – he’s been all minimalist as of late. Granted, the Hollywood digression was a little too self-aware for my taste, but how can you argue with Bill Murray doing comedy again? That side of him has been dormant since, what, Charlie’s Angels? As a man raised on his Stripes and Caddyshack monologues, I ask – nay , demand! – him to bring it back!

So what did you all think of Zombieland? Any zombie purists like Dalton Ross out there who want to discuss the finer points of the walking undead? Did you think it worked better as an action film, a comedy, both, or neither? And also, were you surprised by the Bill Murray cameo? I’d had it spoiled for me, but I’m wondering if was a real kick in the head if you didn’t see it coming.

Okay, before we go, here’s the assignment for next week, and we’re going back to TV. Seeing old-school Bill Murray got me thinking of Joel McHale, who, in Community, is playing the new-school version of old-school Bill Murray. So let’s check out Community: quick turnaround time here, as it’s on NBC tonight at 8 (or you can always catch it on Hulu).

All right, back to Zombieland!

PHOTO CREDIT: Glen Wilson

Comments (53 total) Add your comment
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  • M. Mogk

    Great post. And it’s not crazy to demand logic in a zombie movie!

    Check out the Zombie Research Society blog at:

    wwww.ZombieResearch.net

    Hope you like it, and keep up the good work!

    MM

  • Dave

    I loved the movie! I think it was a comedy that had a zombie setting not a zombie movie with some comedy. I don’t care how they depicted the zombies; there isn’t just one cannon after all so who cares.

  • Anon

    Harrelson was fantastic, Emma Stone was adorable, but if I have to watch one more film where the skinny, shy, Michael Cera-like lead, who relies on his social ineptitude to deliver subtle lines to get laughs, overtakes his shortcomings and lands a girl WAY out of his league for the simple fact that they are both the leads and there are no other suitable mates around, I am going to scream.

  • dclebeau

    I agree 100% with Josh’s assessment. I enjoyed the movie. But the end at the amusement park had me scratching my head. These characters who had seemed so smart for the first hour suddenly started doing things that were just ridiculously stupid. And the ending was a bit too neat. Still, it was entertaining enough for me to overlook the flaws.

    • AA

      Yeah, I’m with you. Josh’s comments about the logic lapses were spot on. And I didn’t know Bill Murray was in it, so I thought his cameo was pretty funny.

  • K8

    I loved this movie (I saw it 2xs in 4 days) the logic lapses were apparent but at the same time it was one of the most entertaining mainstream movies since Star Trek, it had its faults but I reallly liked it!

  • Jonathan Maberry

    ZOMBIELAND was a hilarious film and a fine new entry to the zombie movie library. It’s short enough to leave you wanting more; fast enough to keep you riveted; funny enough to make you laugh out loud; and over-the-top enough to make the gore acceptable as a comic prop. Comparisons to SHAUN OF THE DEAD are only surface. They’re different kinds of zombie films and different kinds of comedy. Both are terrific, and once Zombieland is out on DVD there are going to be a whole lot of double features, starting with one at my house.

    -Jonathan Maberry
    Author of PATIENT ZERO (St. Martins Griffin) and ZOMBIE CSU: The Forensics of the Living Dead (Citadel Press) and MARVEL ZOMBIES RETURN Issue #3 (Marvel Comics)

  • JP

    Woody Harrelson’s character was FANTASTIC. Bill Murray’s cameo appearance was utterly spot-on. I didn’t mind that the plot was silly and some of the character’s actions got stupid as the movie progressed… It all kept me laughing. Nice blend of comedy and mega-zombie-gore! Finally a zombie/comedy has surpassed Shaun of the Dead in my book (which I did not believe possible!)

  • Shamrock

    CON: Another thing I see in movies with amusement parks that have been adbandoned. Who was operating the rides that Wichita and her sister were riding? How the hell did they start and then get off the pirate ship ride?

    • Shamrock

      Other than that little quirk of mine, Great movie. Except for the first 5 or 10 minutes, not too gory at all and funny as hell.

    • Josh Wolk

      Actually, the same people who operated the rides at Wally World for the Griswolds ran this one. They’re a good crew, they stay out of the way.

      • Shamrock

        LOL…that’s the other movie that I was thinking about when I first saw this movie.

    • Kathleen

      The same people who were keeping the gas stations supplied, the power plants running and the water flowing. Duh.

      • t3hdow

        That crap bothered me too.

  • Eric

    Hilarious most of the way through with a good mix of over the top humor and subtle humor. I would say it is a comedy more than a horror movie. But on a different plane than Shaun of the Dead. Less hokey and more realistic. That being said I would agree that the biggest cons to the movie were the inconsistencies in reality. How is it that the power is still on if no one is running power plants? How were they listening to music in the car, surely radio stations wouldn’t exist anymore.
    But I gotta say that I thought the movie was awesome and will join my DVD collection when it comes out. Despite inconsistencies very well done. And Bill Murray was one of the better moments in the movie, fantastic cameo.

  • SoG

    Loved Bill Murray.Even in his minimalist moments…Lost in Translation was nuanced perfection. Quick Quex for Mr.Dalton if zombies can climb, why shouldn’t they be able to run? My biggest suspension of belief moment was Tallahasse locking himself into the food stand with two guns, granted we saw extra clips but not enough to off as many zombies as were present. Other than that – I do adore snarky horror movies.

    • Josh Wolk

      Yes, that was one of those moves that came out of the ’80s action films where people shoot in what looks like the coolest ways, rather than in ways that make any sense. (i.e. the popular “hold the gun sideways” maneuver, that seems like a real detriment to aiming and accuracy.) Anyway, when I saw Tallahassee lock himself into that cage, I thought, “Now why would you corner yourself like that?” And it was just so he could artfully spin around in a circle.

      • Mike

        Hmmm, at the food stand I initially thought we were coming upon a parody of that great cinematic cliche, the dramatic climax where the main character who, with no Twinkie in sight and apparently having nothing to live for, sacrifices himself for his friends. I really wasn’t sure how that was going to end, I mean, they killed Bill Murray!

  • Mark

    I’m another one who thought the amusement park climax almost, but not completely, stretched believability beyond acceptance (other nagging questions from that location – is it really so easy to start and stop a ride that had been inoperable for a while? Would a gunshot really do the trick?). Maybe I was relieved that the ending wasn’t the one I feared – when Wichita laughed at Columbus for putting on his seat belt, I was sure this meant she would plummet through a car windsheild to her final demise. Other than that, I found the movie a complete delight. I’m the opposite of Josh – the ONLY zombie movies I’ve seen were Romero ones – and I could not rememebr the last time I had such fun at a theatre.

  • Dave

    For that matter how was there any electricity since most of the world was dead or zombified power plants won’t continue to run on their own. But who cares in this type of movie?

  • Mike

    If it’s possible for there to be a “great” B-movie, then Zombieland is it. What a fun way to spend a Saturday afternoon! The script is slyly hilarious throughout . . . indeed, Wolk apparently missed the fact that Zombieland was parodying the “redemption for everybody” concept by the point Jesse Eisenberg’s character faced down the clown. The performances were spot-on . . . this deserves to revive Woody Harrelson’s career the same way Pulp Fiction did for John Travolta in 1994. Not to mention, Emma Stone is infinitely more interesting than, say, Megan Fox. Plus a Bill Murray cameo? And The Black Keys AND The Raconteurs on the soundtrack? I give in, I give in!

    • Josh Wolk

      I don’t know; I think if they wanted to parody the “redemption for everybody” thing with the clown, they needed to tweak it in some way. There was nothing to indicate that the clown thing was done ironically; they just took the cliche (fear of clowns) and gave it a zombie twist, but underneath the goo coming out of his mouth, it was the same cliche.

      • Mike

        But wasn’t there a pointed reference that there was a perfect storm of events culminating in Columbus’s moment of truth? It had to be a zombie . . . no, it had to be a clown zombie . . . yes, the hottie is watching me face him down. And the fact that the clown was killed so quickly, wasn’t that ironic? It’s like the old adage, you die a thousand deaths before you even face your fear.

      • DawninDenver

        Spoiler (of course) but how great was the squeaky clown nose sound when he conquered the clown zombie? Hilarious movie! http://www.milehighhorrors.com

    • K8

      I agree, when Emma Stone did the Annie Potts ghostbuster impression I almost died

  • Mark

    Absolutely right about Emma Stone, Mike. I never thought Kristen Stewart was the right choice to play Joan Jett in the upcoming Runaways biopic, and now I know why – this is the part Stone was born to play! Grab an axe, get down to that set and kick little miss Twilight’s butt off the stage, Emma!

  • dclebeau

    Sure they killed Bill Murray. If they didn’t, the gang would have spent the rest of the movie just hanging out and playing Ghostbusters in his mansion.

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