Sunday, October 4, 2009

Zombieland: perfect length for delivering maximum entertainment

Zombieland. This post-apocalyptic horror comedy – a type of film that more often than not strikes coal than gold – did well by its chosen extent of exposure. The film employs no delay before assaulting the viewer with blood, guts and disarray that ravage everyday life. The unsightly sight of the slobbering, obese and ruthless zombies traipsing through groceries and gift shops, coupled with the equally ruthless and fun ways the remaining survivors enact decimate them encompass a good chunk of the film’s pleasure.

The secret is that it plays it short and wins. From the get-go, the comical parody of horrific zombies and the unusual methods used to murder them could seem to grow tiresome. The premise could very well have run out of steam, but it never does. Instead, you leave the film feeling shortchanged of the long-term futures of the characters’ lives.

A clean 80-minute running time doesn’t necessarily make best use of the impact of a complex domestic drama. But it does significantly tighten a thinly plotted adventure that doesn’t require expositional complexities to be effective.

Some films like The Deer Hunter thrive on a liberal running time punctuated by the feeling of time passing by. Zombieland thrives on comic energy and hyper-adrenalized tenacity, courtesy of Woody Harrelson’s hero-type Tallahassee.

The central quartet – Tallahassee, Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) – rarely exhibits much of a reluctance to kill, and this paucity of fear cuts down on the scream or shock factor. In the mind of the survivors, the zombie killings – or at least in small, manageable doses – had come to represent the “daily grind.” Columbus was the wimpy one by default, but he still had the most systematic plan for survival, represented by his list of ultimate rules. These come in quite handy for the characters as well as for the film’s own creativity. In a recurring visual gag, the rules are emblazoned across the screen in clever and funny ways throughout.

By no means does a film this short have to qualify as “breezy.” To cite an earlier Eisenberg work The Squid and the Whale – you don’t need 100 minutes to hit home. There’s nothing like a concise and honest 81-minute representation of family, divorce and social trepidation. Though it’s definitely not a joyride and definitely a downer, Squid is also Eisenberg’s finest hour-and-a-half since his film career kicked off in 2002. He’s been terrific at portraying realistic, neurotic young adults. In Zombieland, he too often resorts to a perfunctory neurosis we’ve seen all too many times recently (albeit not in zombie-coms), but that’s mostly the script’s fault. Among other trends in the Eisenberg filmography, Lou Reed (see below) and amusement parks each play a role.

Zombieland manages to stay very alive, capitalizing on the thrill of the concept and the interactions among the characters. In this kind of economy, 80 minutes does the job more efficiently. Now if only the level of ticket prices would diminish accordingly.

Jesse Eisenberg’s Lou Reed Jukebox

The Squid and the Whale (10 out of 10)
Lou Reed – Street Hassle

Adventureland (8 out of 10)
The Velvet Underground – Pale Blue Eyes
Lou Reed – Satellite of Love
The Velvet Underground – Here She Comes Now

Zombieland (7 out of 10)
The Velvet Underground – Oh! Sweet Nuthin’


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