As a grade-schooler growing up in the early ‘90s, my circle of friends and I were connoisseurs of the period's video games.
Many games made impressions but an especially innovative one that still sticks in my memory was the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis release "Zombies Ate My Neighbors." (How can one forget a title like that?)
The inspiration for the game was classic and contemporary horror films - all of which were referenced with a quirky sense of humor. The objective of "Zombies" was to rescue "victims" hidden in each level before they were eaten by zombies, aliens, axe-wielding killer dolls, werewolves, giant babies, or the dozens of other monsters.
The game was multiplayer and featured an arsenal of strange weapons - stuff like squirt guns, weed-whackers, exploding six packs of pop, and bazookas (which were particularly good for killing the giant ants.) These factors made "Zombies" a continual delight to little third-grade Davey and his best buddies Nick, Will, Scott, and Danny.
Indulging this weekend in the horror-comedy "Zombieland," the new Woody Harrelson film was not quite an adaptation of my childhood video game but with its episodic nature, pop culture references, and oddball humor it might as well have been.
The film begins with an introduction to a post-apocalyptic America where zombies run wild. Jesse Eisenberg - who was recently so great in "Adventureland" -- plays college geek Columbus (all the characters go by the name of their home town.) Columbus describes his various rules for surviving in Zombieland. As he narrates each one they appear as text on the screen in a humorous fashion
Columbus has mainly been a loner in his quest to make it back to where his parents might still be alive in Ohio. Even before the Zombie outbreak Columbus had few friends. So he adapts to the new world with relative ease.
When he encounters Tallahassee (Harrelson,) though, he decides to join the heavily-armed, perpetually-twinkie-hunting, zombie killer to road trip across America. Along the way they encounter Wichita (Emma Stone from "Superbad,") Little Rock (the delightful Abigail Breslin, best known for "Little Miss Sunshine,) and a whole host of zombies to be killed. The duration of the film is just this group wandering from place to place fighting zombies.
Is that really an adequate plot description? Because I feel like I'm leaving something out. No, wait, I'm not leaving anything out, it was director Ruben Fleisher and screenwriters Paul Wernick and Rhett Reese who seemed to forget to stick in a plot. They were just too focused on creating likable characters, fun dialogue, and entertaining devices like the on-screen Zombie rules that they neglected to give the film any kind of focus. Usually zombie movies do have some sort of A to B narrative. Perhaps it's a group of people trying to survive the night. Or maybe they're on a road trip trying to get to a safe haven. "Zombieland" sort of flirts with both of these plots but never commits to either. Thus we're just stumbling around with our characters, appreciating the jokes and zombie carnage. Because of this narrative inadequacy even though the film is only 81 minutes it often feels much longer.
While this serious plot defect is an issue it does not entirely cripple the film. There's still enough going on that works - particularly the likeable characters and the humorous dialogue - that both horror and comedy fans alike should enjoy themselves.
"Zombies Ate My Neighbors" was always an amusing game but it would never really work that well as a film. And "Zombieland" with its episodic nature makes that clear. Oh well, some games are best left just remaining games.