September 28, 2009 / 3:50 AM / 10 years ago

Harrelson, Murray bring flair to "Zombieland"

Cast member Jesse Eisenberg attends the premiere of the film "Zombieland" in Los Angeles September 23, 2009. REUTERS/Phil McCarten

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Falling closer in tone to “Shaun of the Dead” than “28 Days Later” or the George Romero movies, “Zombieland” has its tongue planted firmly in its rancid cheek while still delivering the visceral goodies.

It’s an admittedly tricky balance that’s pulled off with energetic panache by first-time director Ruben Fleischer and the writing team of Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick. It also has perfectly pitched performances, including the cameo of the year by Bill Murray. But more about that in a bit.

While the marketplace hasn’t exactly been starved for cranium-crunching zombie fare, this one’s a no-brainer boxoffice-wise, certain to generate lively numbers when it opens on Friday through Columbia Pictures.

Jesse Eisenberg makes for an ideally sardonic Columbus, a former Ohio resident and uber-nerd whose obsessive-compulsive list of personal rules has somehow helped him survive a worldwide zombie epidemic.

He finds himself forming an unusual alliance with Tallahassee (a seldom funnier Woody Harrelson), a lone wolf of a zombie-leveling badass with nothing else to live for except a frustratingly elusive Hostess Twinkie; and, ultimately, with Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin), a pair of closely knit sisters with trust issues.

They’re headed for Pacific Playland, a tawdry Southern California amusement park that, rumor has it, is a zombie-free zone, but en route they make a pit stop at an ostentatious, presumed-vacant Beverly Hills mansion belonging to Murray, setting the scene for what is arguably the film’s most inspired sequence.

Things feel a bit anti-climactic by the time the foursome arrives at that hyped amusement park, especially since newcomer Fleischer does such a terrific job in establishing the requisite fun-house atmosphere right from the opening credits, with his game cast very much up for the ride.

But that doesn’t mean he’s skimping on the hard-core zombie-bashing either, with a graphically gonzo assist from special effects makeup designer Tony Gardner and the efficient immediacy of (“Cloverfield” cinematographer) Michael Bonvillain’s lively hand-held camerawork.

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