October 4, 2009 [Zombieland]

Once Bill Murray pretends to be a zombie to fake out the real zombies, you know that either the zombie genre has arrived or it's all over. Zombieland accepts the former: It knows that the underlying horrors—of consumption, of becoming/being replaced by a Thing, of relentless pursuit—bring with them not only disgust and anxiety but nervous laughter and flat-out absurdity. And like vampires, the zombie-rules are open to interpretation, modification, invention; so the zombie movie is irresistible to certain kinds of filmmakers and audiences willing to play with dread and annihilation—as willing as Goya or Francis Bacon (the painter)—no, maybe more like Harvey Kurztman and the Usual Gang of Idiots from the old E.C. horror comics. Or maybe like both, artists high and low finding a common ground in, well, zombies.

Or maybe it's just Monty Python, the self-awareness, the postmodern extolling of irony—or at least of farce. If so, Zombieland cast its leads perfectly: Jesse Eisenberg, AKA Michael Cera's cousin, is a perfectly awkward non-survivor—paired with a patented crazyman, Woody Harrelson, who's so good at it because he knows he's crazy—and knowing it makes him deliberate and ready for whatever comes to mind. And of course there're girls—but this time around they're filled with grrl power—ruthless survivors looking for an edge as everything is bitten to pieces.

And so it may have come as a pleasant surprise, but it also makes sense that this crew would run into Bill Murray, who almost single-handedly invented the kind of wise-ass ex-fratboy that—at least for a long while—can survive a zombie apocalypse like Bugs Bunny outsmarting every predator, human and otherwise—and who, come to think of it, may actually be the original original wise-ass in American movies, the trickster hero straight out of slave tales and even Uncle Remus—especially here in Zombieland, one big briar patch where only the born-and-bred can pop out the other side and dance a defiant jig of triumph, no matter how short-lived.

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