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For rambunctious laughs, you can hardly beat "Zombieland," a pedal-to-the-metal mix of ghoul gore, smartmouth humor and filmmaking savvy.
We watch the story unfold through the bemused peepers of unlikely survivor Columbus (star-in-the-making Jesse Eisenberg from "Adventureland"). Columbus is wiry and nervous behind a calm veneer; imagine Don Knotts' Deputy Barney Fife with an unlimited supply of bullets. He also has an underhanded sense of humor. The story opens in depopulated Garland, Texas, and he assures us that it looked just as dead and deserted before the zombie holocaust.
A hoodie-wearing introvert whose solitary ways and cautious attitude are ideal for post-apocalypse survival, Columbus lives by dozens of lifesaving rules -- do your cardio daily, limber up, always check the back seat, shoot zombies twice -- whose value director Ruben Fleischer illustrates in quick, flesh-chomping cutaways.
En route to Ohio to check on his family, he meets Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson). A tough-talkin', zombie-hatin' goober, Tallahassee is convinced that all you need to whip global disorder is a Hummer, a few pump guns and a bad attitude. This is the role Harrelson was born to play. Beefcake with a well-aged sense of humor, he sends up the Last Stud on Earth persona without treating it merely as a joke. The odd couple don't really trust or like each other but decide their odds are better together than traveling alone. The gleefully deranged plot follows their travels through a theme park America whose motif is cannibalistic corpses.
The movie's genius is its balance between jugular-ripping subject matter and casual day-in-the-life presentation. When killing the living dead becomes routine, you have to use a little creativity to keep your edge. Tallahassee likes to change things up with hedge trimmers and Louisville Sluggers. In digressive pieces of say-what? back story, we meet various winners of the Zombie Kill of the Week competition, inspired by Three Stooges shorts and Road Runner cartoons.
The last guys in the known universe get some company in the form of sisters Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin). Good girls one minute, conniving con artists the next, they give the boys a run for their money. The four actors are an inspired comic quartet, spiking laugh lines at each other like volleyball champs. When they detour to California, they're joined by a fifth survivor, the funniest cameo I have seen since forever.
Our heroes' adventures are self-aware riffs on zombie film staples, flaunting the queasy stuff for push-the-limits hilarity. Cast and crew keep the tone hovering expertly between "Dawn of the Dead" and "Dumb and Dumber." It's a nonstop stream of entertainment that flows in great crimson jets.
Colin Covert • 612-673-7186