Where Shaun had Simon Pegg’s directionless shop assistant as its unlikely protagonist, Zombieland has an even more improbable hero. Jesse Eisenberg’s Columbus is a timid neurotic wimp with irritable bowel syndrome – imagine a post-adolescent Woody Allen and you’ll have some idea of his character – yet he is also one of the few remaining survivors of a rampant virus that has turned the US population into flesh-hungry zombies.
Narrating in a smart, self-deprecating voice-over, Columbus is our guide to the new United States of Zombies. He has a long list of fussy rules for survival, ranging from maintaining cardiovascular fitness to always buckling up in a car, and his precepts are superimposed over brief scenes that prove their wisdom.
Toting a shotgun and towing a wheelie suitcase (the combination is irresistible), Columbus runs across a very different fellow survivor – Woody Harrelson’s ornery badass Tallahassee, who takes pride in his zombie-offing skills and is on a quest to find the planet’s last edible Twinkie. “Nut up or shut up,” is his simple maxim. (It’s Tallahassee, by the way, who dubs Columbus ‘Columbus’, after the hometown he is trying to reach, and his system of naming gets further use, as we shall see.)
Shortly after joining forces, the pair run into two more survivors – foxy ‘Wichita’ (Superbad’s Emma Stone) and her sassy little sister ‘Little Rock’ (played by Little Miss Sunshine’s Abigail Breslin) – and, after a series of vicissitudes in which the girls prove themselves far more ruthless than the men, the quartet make their way across country towards the supposed sanctuary of a Los Angeles amusement park.
En route, there are smart gags, sharp pop culture references and gory mayhem galore – a mix handled with surprising tonal assurance by first-time director Ruben Fleischer and screenwriting debutants Gavin Polone and Rhett Reese. Eisenberg (last seen in Adventureland) and Harrelson are perfectly cast and Stone and Breslin prove worthy foils. To cap things off, there is a terrific deadpan cameo from a great comic icon – but not even ravening zombies could tear his identity from me.
On general release from 7th October.