Zombieland: * 1/2 (out of 4) / * (out of 4)

While society as a whole has been going through a Zombie Renaissance over the last few years, I seem to have become somewhat jaded, at least with the theatrical side of things. The problem is two-fold: I've caught up with the good zombie movies that the genre has produced, and I've read a succession of increasingly well-thought-out zombie books and comics. Knowing where the zombie genre has been and where it is going, it's hard to watch movies that are either caught in the past (the re-make of Dawn of the Dead) or heading off in the entirely different direction of Fast Zombies (28 Days Later). And yet, I remain fascinated enough to go to see the movies as they come out, and I doubt that will change any time soon.

Zombieland is an interesting stop on this road: a zombie movie that barely relies on the zombies for more than laughs. Oh, it's certainly not the first zombie-based comedy; Troma has been making them for years, and Shaun of the Dead is likely to remain the pinnacle of that particular genre for decades to come. And just about any zombie movie of any value whatsoever has delved into zombies being a dark reflection of society. But in this case, the zombies become not just props, but victims of prop comedy; and most of the time, they aren't even present except as the unseen trigger of our characters' neuroses.

That's not to say that there aren't zombies and gore and all of the standard stuff. They're all there, mostly in the opening credits sequence and the first and last 20 minutes of the film; but really, the only thing that they do is force reactions. The "rules" of surviving a zombie apocalypse (zombocalypse?) are laid out in a slap-stick and visual manner, with the deaths of humans and zombies are alike played for laughs as well as emphasis; that done, they only come out every now and then to drive the plot.

What's interesting about this is that it works. This movie is trying to be an average movie. Yes, there are zombies and gore and death; but the heart of this movie is two post-teenagers trying to make their way in the world and falling in love (or at least realizing that they like each other). This is a coming-of-age comedy, but instead of controlling parents and career angst, there are hunts for supplies and the ever-present threat of an attacker behind a closed door. This doesn't always work - there are simply too many survivors out of the seven-member cast for that - but there were definitely moments of brilliance mixed in there, and I never really felt bored.

I suspect that we're going to see more of this direction over the next few years, both the horror-comedy aspect and life-in-post-apocalyptia. I kindof hope it works out, but I'm dubious; this movie would have suffered from heading much further in either direction, and it wasn't that great in the first place.

It seems necessary to drag out the two-part movie scale for a movie like this. It set out to be a pretty-good-but-silly movie; and on that front it did an adequate job. I came out of the movie feeling not offended and not impressed, but at least satisfied. Its goals were not lofty, but they were interesting. I can respect that.

* 1/2 / *

Oh, and if for some reason you need to see some of the reading material that has made me jaded: "World War Z", by Max Brooks, is a quite excellent novel. "Walking Dead" is an ongoing comic book series that explores the longer-term path of survival (and is due to have a TV series based on it out next year). And if you're looking for something that's not going to make it to the big or small screen, I highly recommend "Zombie Night at the Gotham Aquarium" in Hitman 13-14. Zombie sharks! Yay!