'Zombieland' a hilarious feast of the undead

When it comes to genre filmmaking, "Zombieland," a grisly comedy about yet another attack of the ravenous undead, does just about everything right.

Likable characters you sort of care about? Check. Hilarity and horror flying at you in equal measure? Check. Clocking in at under 90 minutes so the concept doesn't have time to wear itself out? Oh yeah.

That this nimble, clever twist on zombie-invasion flicks is directed by Ruben Fleischer, a guy whose resume is so thin that directing three episodes of "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" counts as major work experience, offers proof that creativity in Hollywood - like the spunky heroes at the center of "Zombieland" - does manage to survive after all. (Writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick also come out of TV, most notably "The Joe Schmo Show." Who knew THAT would lead to anything worthwhile?)

Jesse Eisenberg ("Adventureland"), the new Michael Cera, is Columbus, a twentysomething geek who - because he's locked away playing video games all the time - escapes the viral infection that turns nearly every human into a flesh-eating freak. When it finally dawns on him what's going on, he's on the run from his apartment in Austin to his family's Ohio home.

Along the way, he falls in with three other survivors: Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), a twitchy survivalist who enjoys nothing more than mowing down zombies; and devious Wichita (Emma Stone) and her younger sister Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) - yes, there's a reason why everyone has geographic names. They decide to go to L.A. on the vague rumor that there might be safety out there. Road trip!

There's a major plot point that happens in Hollywood that sends "Zombieland," which up to that point had been cleverly speeding along, into comedy overdrive. Not only is it funny in its own right but works as a nod to "Ghostbusters," the 1984 film to which "Zombieland" owes a debt.

Unlike its monsters, "Zombieland" certainly is not dead from the neck up.



Three stars

STARRING: Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, Abigail Breslin

RATED: R, for horror, violence, gore, strong language

RUNNING TIME: 1 hour, 27 minutes