Zombieland starts out well.  Our hero (Jesse Eisenberg), surveying a sterile, vacant parking lot, informs us that we are in Garland, Texas, which he tells us was pretty much a “zombieland” before a mysterious virus actually zombified mankind.  He is spot-on with his analysis.  I lived in Garland, Texas, in the 1980s, and I recall the city council once asking a public relations expert about how to make the bland Dallas suburb into a “sexier” destination.  The expert’s advice apparently didn’t take, because Zombieland chose to single out poor Garland for abuse.

As I say, the film begins promisingly, for us if not for Garland.  But then, despite a good cast, it quickly degenerates into a series of clichés.  Eisenberg plays yet another golden-hearted loser, unlucky at love but a whiz at computer games; Woody Harrelson pops in as the stupid macho man we are expected to laugh at — and admire — as he mentors the kid; two thinly drawn female characters are introduced, I suppose so that teenage girls will more likely see Zombieland with their boyfriends.

The laughs are cheap.  I guess it’s mildly amusing that Harrelson’s tough guy has a weakness for Twinkies, but is that such a funny gag that it must be repeated, over and over again?

The special effects … sigh … are fine.  This is the problem with Hollywood movies today:  The acting is usually quite good, the direction is accomplished, the set direction and cinematography are a wonder to behold, and the special effects make you gasp.  See anything missing from that list?  Only the most important element — a memorable story, devoid of clichés.

Zombieland, like most of Hollywood’s output, is a diverting enough way to spend two hours.  But it’s also as forgettable as a parking lot in Garland.      Grade:  C


Director:  Ruben Fleischer  Cast:  Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, Abigail Breslin, Amber Heard  Release:  2009


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