If there’s one moment that perfectly encapsulates the vibe of the horror-comedy “Zombieland,” it’s probably this: Woody Harrelson in a cowboy hat, whooping and hollering, picking off zombies with a gun … from a moving roller coaster.
The movie’s a ride, basically. It’s a slick, funny buddy-flick confection about a dork (Jesse Eisenberg), a Twinkie-loving hick (Harrelson), a hottie (Emma Stone) and a sassy kid (Abigail Breslin) who bicker and bond as they drive cross-country after a zombie plague. They’re each looking for a safe haven they pretty much know they won’t find, they don’t seem too busted up about it, and they periodically stop along the way to break into celebrity mansions and/or smash things for fun.
There isn’t any deeper message to the thing beyond “Family is where you find it.” If it weren’t for the R rating for gore and swearing, you could almost describe the movie as family-friendly.
Now, I tend to like my zombie films with some sort of glaringly obvious social commentary — whether it’s a satire of consumerism (1978’s “Dawn of the Dead”) or a riff on 30-year-old boys who need to grow up (“Shaun of the Dead”). “Zombieland” has none of that, but it won me over anyway. It just kind of kicks its feet up and says, “Let’s have some low-key fun with this whole postapocalyptic-undead thing,” then does so with consumer-grade professionalism and polish. I could see it becoming a medium-sized hit.
Director Ruben Fleischer has a decent visual wit — particularly when he plays with slow motion, litters the frame with title cards listing Eisenberg’s survival tips, or stops the film cold to show you the “Zombie Kill of the Week.” The cast is adorable, especially Eisenberg, taking his second trip this year to an amusement park in a movie ending in “-land.” His Michael Cera-esque readings of lines like “I’m just kind of a Sancho Panza character” clash nicely with Harrelson and the flesh-munching wasteland.
And without spoiling anything, I’ll just say that “Zombieland” has one hell of an extended celebrity cameo. (Don’t spoil yourself beforehand; it’s funnier that way.)