Zombieland | A Perfect Getaway

Zombieland | A Perfect Getaway

Zombieland
Rating:

Directed by Ruben Fleischer. Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone, Abigail Breslin, Amber Heard, Mike White. Written by Rhett Reese & Paul Wernick.


It´s easy to have fun with Zombieland, a comedy set in a post-apocalyptic, zombie infested United States; the film is plenty funny, even if horror and drama elements don´t exactly work out as intended. Taking its inspiration from Shaun of the Dead, this low-key affair successfully manages to blend Dawn of the Dead with National Lampoon´s Vacation, skewing more to the Vacation side of things.

Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) is a neurotic, virginal shut-in who has survived the zombie apocalypse thanks to his checklist of rules, like “cardio”, which dictates the fit will survive while outrunning zombies, and “double tap”, which echoes the gangland mantra from Miller´s Crossing: “two in the head, you know they´re dead.” He´s on his way to Columbus, Ohio, which he´s heard has been unaffected by the zombie virus, here compared to mad cow disease.



Along the way, he runs into Twinkie-hunting tough-guy Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), who´s heading towards, yup – that´s one of his rules; don´t get too attached to each other by using first names. Since they´re both heading east, they decide to stick together for as long as they can stand each other. They´re not exactly matching character types. Eisenberg and Harrelson play off each other wonderfully here, each displaying a knack for comic timing.

There aren´t too many live humans in Zombieland, but Columbus and Tallahassee eventually run into Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin), two con-artist sisters who scam the guys out of their ride before deciding they may as well team up with them up with them on their journey to Las Angeles. Why Columbus and Tallahassee agree to head to L.A. – which isn´t exactly on the way to their desired destinations – I´m not so sure.

That´s about it for Zombieland, and if it sounds light on plot, that´s because it is. Even by road movie standards, this thing is weak on actual goings-on. Director Ruben Fleischer makes up for that with a lot of non sequiturs (including “zombie kill of the week”) and other flashy devices, though the twentieth time one of Columbus´ rules pops up on the screen, it begins to wear thin.

But halfway through, there´s an uproarious extended cameo that saves the film. It´s really quite perfectly executed – not often would a cameo add such value (though Tropic Thunder certainly got some mileage) – and the one real memorable element here.

It´s tough to dislike Zombieland, though I frequently didn´t care for the plotting. There´s an errant streak of stupidity here that causes one character to dress up like a zombie and try to scare another, who always keeps a loaded shotgun by his side (guess what happens), or allows the characters to turn on all the lights and music and rides at an amusement park while the surrounding city is covered with zombies looking for signs of life.

It´s not just that the characters do these things – in a comedy, we expect a certain level of dumb to provide for the gags – but that the filmmakers expect to elicit an emotional response when the inevitable occurs. What, are we supposed to be terrified now that the amusement park is overrun with zombies? Now there´s suspense? I´m not buying it. The characters on the drama side of the film shouldn´t have to deal with the situations these same characters on the comedy side create.

Zombieland immediately invites comparison with Shaun of the Dead (and the director acknowledges Shaun as an inspiration); the comparison isn´t too friendly. Edgar Wright´s film was a perfect example of how to blend comedy and horror, while Fleischer´s film comes off as a loving attempt at the same – but a bit of a mess by the end. For a film with such potentially exciting elements, I found my reaction strangely muted. Short runtime – 80 minutes minus credits, though it never feels that short – points to story problems.

Stick around after the credits for an extra laugh.

***


 

A Perfect Getaway
Rating:

Written & directed by David Twohy. Starring Steve Zahn, Timothy Olyphant, Milla Jovovich, Kiele Sanchez, Marley Shelton, Chris Hemsworth.

It´s a perfectly adequate thriller in its own right, but everything about A Perfect Getaway screams direct-to-DVD: the genre, the cast, the plotting, the budget. An hour into the film I wondered why this routine – if well-crafted – genre film was released theatrically; a second-act twist attempts to rectify this, but we´re still left wanting. In this age of the Hollywood blockbuster, it just feels so damn slight; though that, in its own way, can be refreshing.

Go in with reasonable expectations (and avoid the trailers and most reviews – including the rest of this one – which probably reveal too much) and you should enjoy A Perfect Getaway; catch it on TV late at night and I daresay you´ll like it more.

You see, generic B-movie thrillers are not necessarily bad; it´s just we rarely have talent working behind them these days. Director David Twohy usually skews toward sci-fi (The Arrival, Pitch Black), and his films are consistently – save for his last, The Chronicles of Riddick – well-handled, low-key efforts that play to conventions without pushing any limits. Getaway, despite a genre change, is no different.

Milla Jovovich and Steve Zahn star as Cydney and Cliff, a newlywed couple vacationing in Hawaii. While driving around the island of Kauai, they run into a pair of hitchhikers, Cleo (played by Marley Shelton) and Kale (Chris Hemsworth); Cleo seems nice enough, but the guy sends out creepy vibes. Cydney and Cliff aren´t so sure they should give them a lift. You get the feeling it´s not the last time we´ll see this couple.

Later on, while hiking around the island, Cydney and Cliff run into another American couple: Nick (Timothy Olyphant) is a talkative ex-marine, Gina (Kiele Sanchez) his resourceful girl who can take care of herself. The two couples decide to trek together through Kauai, which provides some gorgeous scenery that cinematographer Mark Plummer doesn´t hesitate to linger on.

But wait – this is a thriller. Before long, we learn that a horrible murder has been committed, and authorities are looking for an American couple. Could it be…? Or…?

Now, Cliff is a screenwriter, and Nick is movie lover; they share some key dialogue early in the film that ends up with Nick asking Cliff if his script has “a good twist at the end of act two.” Wink-wink, nudge-nudge, in typical Scream fashion, and during the rest of the movie we´re trying to guess that twist (note: don´t bother). Nick even mentions “red snappers”, to which Cliff is quick to correct him with “red herrings”. Hmm.

About that twist: it´s pretty interesting, but cutesy and over-explained (“no, see, we weren´t trying to mislead you”) to the point of being pretty senseless. But it´s certainly not enough to make or break the film, and by the time it comes along, well, we´ve had a decent little thriller that knows what it is, and it goes out on the very same notes.

***

Also opening: Micmacs à tire-larigot (showtimes | IMDb), the latest from acclaimed French director Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Amelie, A Very Long Engagement). Screening in French with Czech subtitles.

And: A Prophet (showtimes | IMDb), a French drama from director Jacques Audiard that won the Jury Prize at Cannes earlier this year. Also screening in French with Czech subtitles.

Also: Oko ve zdi (showtimes | IMDb), a thriller from Miloš J. Kohout starring Karel Roden, Soňa Valentová, Catherine Flemming, and Jürgen Prochnow. Screening in Czech.

Lastly: Arthur and the Revenge of Maltazard (showtimes | IMDb), a sequel to Arthur and the Minimoys, directed by Luc Besson. Screening in a Czech-dubbed version in Prague.


Jason Pirodsky

Hailing from Syracuse, New York, Jason Pirodsky made his way to Prague via Miami and has stuck around, for better and worse, since 2004. A member of the Online Film Critics Society (www.ofcs.org), some of his favorite movies include O Lucky Man!, El Topo, Berlin Alexanderplatz, and Hellzapoppin'. Follow him on Twitter for some (slightly) more concise reviews.

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