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Life Is a Blood-Soaked Highway in 'Zombieland'

There is no social satire to be gleaned from the stylishly staged skull crunching in Ruben Fleischer’s post-apocalyptic comedy Zombieland – and not much in the way of serious horror. The first-time feature director (formerly of ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel Live!) aims more for laughs than for the unrelenting dread of George A. Romero’s Living Dead movies, and he succeeds almost effortlessly: At 81 minutes, his debut is cheerfully macabre, briskly paced, brimming with demented energy, and otherwise totally disposable.

That’s not a bad thing, mind you. At no time does Fleischer or his goofy cast, led by Jesse Eisenberg (Adventureland) and Woody Harrelson, treat Zombieland as anything more than it is – a crass, lively entertainment. If mutilated ghouls and sanguine splatter aren’t your thing, attendance is welcomed but not encouraged.

For those with higher thresholds of tolerance, there are pleasures every bit as giddy – though rarely as clever – as those in Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead (2004). Fleischer’s opening-credits sequence, set to the thrashing strains of Metallica’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls” and shot in comically melodramatic slo-mo, introduces us to the flesh-chewing zombies whose natural habitat is movies like this. What follows is a standard tale of survival, highlighted by Harrelson’s low-key turn as a laconic road warrior and by one of the year’s most unexpected and delightful cameos.

I’m not about to reveal the identity of this mystery guest, since his arrival, like his laughably abrupt departure, works best as a surprise. (Those seeking spoilers are free to consult the Internet Movie Database.) That he is the movie’s most pleasing asset implies no criticism of Harrelson or Eisenberg, who plays a neurotic virgin (as usual) on a mission to find his parents in Columbus, Ohio.

Emma Stone (Superbad) and Abigail Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine), as con-artist, car-thieving sisters, are, like the guys, running for their lives, but would prefer to take their chances at a Southern California amusement park. Goodbye, Columbus. Hello, road trip for four.

As with almost everything else in Zombieland, their reasons for heading west are fairly inconsequential – just sit back and enjoy the ride – but the movie’s manic finale, filmed at the Wild Adventures Theme Park in Valdosta, Georgia, sure does look good.