A lively comedy about the undead - The Explorer: El Sol

A lively comedy about the undead

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Posted: Tuesday, October 6, 2009 11:00 pm | Updated: 1:22 pm, Mon Apr 18, 2011.

Associated Press

'Zombieland'

Rated R for horror violence/gore and language. 82 min. Three stars out of four.

You'd be justified in thinking you've visited "Zombieland” before. There's been no shortage of zombies at the movies in recent years, just as there's been no shortage of vampires.

And within that genre, a crop of zombie comedies has arisen, from "Shaun of the Dead” to "Zombie Strippers” to "Dead Snow.” Like "Shaun” before it, though, "Zombieland” mostly finds that tricky balance of the laugh-out-loud funny and the make-you-jump scary, of deadpan laughs and intense energy.

It's a total blast even if the story is a bit thin, and it does run out of steam toward the end, but thankfully our trip to "Zombieland” is appropriately quick.

First-time director Ruben Fleischer grabs you from the get-go with stylized visuals, and the script from Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick is hilariously bizarre while still remaining rooted in contemporary reality.

Jesse Eisenberg stars as an uber-nerdy college student who's managed to survive a viral zombie outbreak by adhering to a strict series of rules, which are inspired by his innate fear of everything. While trying to get home to Ohio to see what's become of his parents, he runs into a fellow survivor (Woody Harrelson) who's his brash, butt-kicking opposite.

They come to regard each other by their destinations — Columbus and Tallahassee — rather than their real names to avoid forging a personal relationship, should potential zombiedom force either of them to take drastic action against the other. Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin co-star as Wichita and Little Rock, sisters who join them in hopes of staying alive.

'The Invention of Lying'

Rated PG-13 for language including some sexual material and a drug reference. 99 min. One and a half stars out of four.

It would be such a joy to bend the truth and say that "The Invention of Lying” lives up to the potential of its inspired premise.

The conceit — that an alternate universe exists where everyone tells the truth all the time — sets up an uproarious beginning, but then the movie plummets precipitously. It's not just the high-concept gag wears thin, which it does.

The bigger problem is that Ricky Gervais, in his directorial debut (alongside co-director and co-writer Matthew Robinson), zig-zags awkwardly between dark humor and heavy melodrama. One character is suicidal and another is on the verge of dying, both of which are played uncomfortably for laughs. It certainly doesn't help that "The Invention of Lying” is lighted so hideously, everyone looks like death — even Rob Lowe and Tina Fey.

This is especially obvious given Gervais' fondness for cutting back and forth between close-ups his actors, which he does with distracting frequency.

On camera himself, he's likable enough as Mark Bellison, a wisecracking sad sack who discovers the unheard-of notion of lying one day and explores its many benefits. But sharing scenes with him are Philip Seymour Hoffman, Edward Norton and Jason Bateman, who go to waste in barely-there cameos.

Comedians like Fey, Jeffrey Tambor and Louis C.K. get a bit more time on screen but their characters are flatly one-note. Gervais deserves credit for approaching the idea that God and heaven are part of an elaborate lie meant to assuage the masses — a bold move for a big-studio comedy with lots of stars — but then backs off, as if he and Robinson hadn't thought it through all the way.

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