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“’Zombieland,’ An Uproarious One-Way Ticket to Hell”

zombielandGonzo filmmaking at its best, “Zombieland” is a fast, loud and messy apocalyptic spoof of the subgenre George Romero invented with “Night Of the Living Dead.” Irreverent and full of surprises, it’s an original work, one that will have audience guffawing in between gasps.

A nebbish college student (Jesse Eisenberg) lives alone in a world full of the living dead.  He follows very specific rules to stay alive but when he meets rough-and-tumble survivalist (Woody Harrelson), he begins to take risks.  The two form an awkward friendship led by a will to stay alive and a quest for the endangered treat, Hostess Twinkies.

The two, who use cities instead of real names for monikers to avoid getting too attached, discover a sister team (Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin) who turn out to be more than their match. Now double the population, the four try for a semblance of real life which is constantly interrupted but slobbering, feral monsters by the millions.

Relatively new director Ruben Fleischer has complete control over his audience.  He knows when to shock him, when to cause uncomfortable laughter as Quentin Tarantino did in the adrenaline scene in “Pulp Fiction, and when to evoke balls-out hilarity.  The opening credits is a masterpiece with slow-motion, three-dimensional graphical tableaus that are as perverse as they are comical.

Writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick have a command of the hip language, evoking Chuck Palahniuk.  Between the many horror homages is a human story of needing connection, particularly in an emotionally empty world. The poignant scenes mesh surprisingly well with the black humor.

Eisenberg, with “Adventureland” and “Squid and the Whale” has become the most lovable geeky action star since Gene Wilder in “Silver Streak.” Full of anxious energy, he shows how a worry-wart evolves into a hero.

Harrelson’s grungy loner is reminiscent of Bruce Campbell in the “Evil Dead” films.  Full of ferocity and one-liners, he’s a hoot.

Stone (“SuperBad” and “House Bunny”), who has in the past played second fiddle to Jonah Hill and Anna Faris, gets to shine in the spotlight here.  Funny and brimming with intelligent sex appeal, she’s a youthful siren, who should finally catch the eye of Hollywood’s movers and shakers with this role.

Breslin has veered past the awkward teen stage to become a lively heroine. Tackling a difficult role, she’s plucky and independent.

Many will tie this film to the British cult classic “Shaun of The Dead,” and though “Zombieland” doesn’t hit the social satire bulls-eye that Edgar Wright’s film does, it’s still an inventive, hilarious, grotesque comedy.  Grade: A-

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