Five Reasons Why “Zombieland” Sucks
by Michael Neelsen & Joe Pudas
Okay – we finally got around to seeing this movie the other day, and we gotta ask, what is everybody smoking? Ruben Fleischer’s Zombieland is one of the most lazily written, haphazardly structured, awful doggone movies we have seen all year. And yet, everyone keeps telling us they love it. We do not understand. So, in an effort to make those of you who do love the film understand where we’re coming from, we have constructed this list of the top five reasons Zombieland sucks.
Oh, yeah… and spoiler alert.
- Scene-Killing Voice Over: For some reason, screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Werneck felt it necessary to spoon-feed the subtext of every single scene in the story to us. Not only was this considerably annoying, but it also ended up undercutting whatever interesting nuances existed in the scene to begin with. For example, the character Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson) is always on the lookout for a Twinkie. It’s a major part of his character, and it’s pretty obvious the tasty cakes supply him with some form of comfort in a land torn to shreds by zombies, in addition to giving him purpose in a purposeless world. But the writers don’t give themselves enough credit. Instead of trusting that they got these ideas across with subtext, they have Jesse Eisenberg’s annoying voice over chime in with something along the lines of “It was as if he got a Twinkie, the world would be the way it used to be for just a few moments and everything would be okay.” Blech! As I said, this is extremely annoying, it undercuts whatever power the scene could’ve had, as well as violates Good Screenwriting 101.
- The Most Clumsily-Staged Cameo of All Time: If there were ever to be a class on how to effectively stage a cameo of a major film star, they should show this scene as an example of precisely what not to do. At one point, the characters arrive in Beverly Hills, California and hold up in the residence of Bill Murray. They tell us the house belongs to Murray. We are made well aware of this. So by the time we are shown strategically-filmed angles of a “mysterious” zombie staggering through the halls, we are miles ahead of the storytellers. We know it’s Bill Murray, guys. No need to hide his face behind a long-haired wig. It’s excruciatingly obvious what you’re doing. Finally, we are shown Murray’s face. Surprise! The characters think he’s a zombie, because he’s pretending to be one, stumbling around and moaning (the logic of this in itself is stupifying – why the hell would you risk getting killed by pretending to be a zombie in front of complete strangers who have broken into your Beverly Hills mansion?). Again, we the audience are way ahead of the filmmakers. Murray isn’t actually going to be a zombie – what would be the point of the cameo? He stumbles in and gets shot, bam, over? This isn’t Tom Savini making a one-shot cameo in Land of the Dead. People know Murray and want him to make them laugh. So Murray stops the zombie act and they all have a good chuckle. He’s not a zombie. Surprise! Then the characters take about thirty solid seconds just to shower Murray with praise like “This guy goes straight to my funny bone,” and “I love all your movies, even the dramatic ones.” A friend of mine has a theory that Reese and Werneck may have written in the praise as extra incentive for Murray to do the cameo. Maybe. Either way it sucks and kills the momentum. Then all the characters go messing around with Murray, quoting his old movies with him and pretending to be Ghostbusters. Um, excuse me… are we just throwing together a fanboy’s wet dream or are we gonna make an effort at telling a good story sometime here? Then the dumbest, most obvious part of all. Jesse Eisenberg has been watching Ghostbusters with Abigail Breslin in Murray’s screening room, and when Murray sees them, he decides he’s gonna scare them by sneaking up on them and pretending to be a zombie again. Gee… I can’t possibly fathom where this is going! He tip-toes up to Eisenberg, moans, scares the crap out of him, so Eisenberg picks up his shotgun and blows a hole in his chest. Wow! The writers really threw me a left turn there! I never saw that coming! And then, as if to pour salt in our wounds, they give little Abigail Breslin the following line: “Do you have any regrets?” What?! Twelve-year-old Breslin is actually asking him if he has any regrets? What planet are we on? Ooh, that’s right. She needs to ask that question, ’cause otherwise Murray can’t say “I dunno… Garfield, maybe?”
- Lazy Writing: A pair of teenage girls con Harrelson and Eisenberg out of their weapons and their wheels and leave them to die. A while later, they do it again, but this time, inexplicably take them along. Makes zero sense. Woody Harrelson discovers a backseat armory of machine guns and ammo and inexplicably fires round after round into the sky, wasting precious ammunition from a short supply, as well as attracting unnecessary attention from zombies hearing the noise. Makes zero sense. Bill Murray actually spends his time dressing like a zombie and sneaking up on people carrying firearms in the post-apocalypse. Makes zero sense. After a full hour and fifteen minutes of characters trying desperately not to attract attention from zombies, the con-girls run away to an amusement park and turn on all the lights and rides, complete with loud circus music and special effects. This, of course, attracts zombies. And then they act all surprised. Makes zero sense. After craving a Twinkie for months and finally finding a grocery store, Woody Harrelson doesn’t go look for the Twinkies after the con-girls make off with their supplies the first time. I’d think then would be the perfect time for a Twinkie! Again, makes zero sense. At the end of the film, they finally find a box of Twinkies, and Eisenberg accidentally shoots it, turning them into a glob of white and yellow muck. But as soon as they walk outside, Breslin cheerily tosses Harrelson a Twinkie, still whole, still in its packaging. What?! Where did she get it? Makes zero sense. At the amusement park, the girls are on the dragon boat thing that swings like a pendulum when the zombies first start swarming the place. They look really worried, as they’re trapped on the ride, and we wonder how they’re going to escape. But then the movie cuts to something else – Harrelson and Eisenberg arriving or something – and then when it cuts back to the girls, they’re running away toward another ride! Somehow, by the grace of God, I guess, they got off the dragon boat ride in time. Makes zero sense. The second ride they get on – the Space Drop or Giant Drop or whatever – simply does not function the way it does in the movie. It does not shoot you up fast and then let you glide on down slowly. That doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. It destroys the point of the ride, and it’s clear that the ride functions that way in the movie purely out of convenience for the screenwriter. You have a theme park full of rides to do fun, crazy, creative zombie shit with, and you settle on a scenario that doesn’t even reflect how the ride actually operates? Makes zero sense. At one point in the story, Eisenberg and Emma Stone are reminiscing about 1997 and what a great year it was. Stone says she saw her first rated R movie that year… Anaconda. Yeah – Anaconda was rated PG-13, you morons. If that isn’t lazy writing, I don’t know what is. And I wouldn’t normally put such scrutiny on a broad horror-comedy making sense, but this movie asks you to the second it sets up its “rules.” From that moment forward, you are asked to partake in the “what would you do” scenario, and it makes it darn near impossible when the writers keep lazily breaking the rules of their own world.
- Not Enough Creative Zombie Kills: For being such a pandering-to-the-fanboys schlock fest, Zombieland offers a stunningly low number of interesting zombie kills. That’s all I’ve got to say about that.
- Con-Girls in the Post-Apocalypse: The concept of con women in the post-apocalypse, or maybe I should say the way the con women were depicted in this movie didn’t make sense to me. I get that their characters had “trust issues,” which is understandable given the setting, but would they really be surviving by pulling little cons on the few, if any, survivors they encountered? And Harrelson and Eisenberg are suddenly very okay with the fact that these two stole their guns and their vehicle not only once, but twice! Instead, the movie plays it sentimental (!) and when Eisenberg is politely given the option to take another vehicle, he declines because, as the ever-present voice over helpfully reminds us, they’re the closest to a real family he’s ever had.
Overall, this movie is such a wasted opportunity, and when everybody fawns over it and ignores the faults, it boggles our minds. “Yeah, yeah, I know, a lot of it doesn’t make sense, but they played ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’ over zombie slaughter in the credits, and it was so awesome!” We hate making this comparison because it’s so obvious, but look at how superior Shaun of the Dead is to this. That film has actual characters, cool zombie kills, hilarious lines in every scene, set-ups and pay-offs that are well-placed and original, and it stays consistent to the world it has created. Everyone seems to agree that Shaun of the Dead is better zombie comedy, but the unofficial consensus seems to be that Zombieland is a close second. The difference in quality between those two is like night and day.