From the director of Zombieland, no less. And it might just work.
Ruben Fleischer‘s directorial career started on such a high, only for it to slowly go downhill with each passing feature film. His zom-com hit Zombieland introduced the world to Jesse Eisenberg and was part of Emma Stone’s killer breakthrough year as well. His other successive films have made far less of an impact, but that might be primed for a change soon. Deadline reports that Fleischer’s latest directorial effort will be a buddy cop film starring John Cena (Trainwreck) and Kumail Nanjiani (The Big Sick).
No details or even a title have been revealed about the project, other than it’s a big return to the comedy genre for Fleischer on the big screen. As a huge Zombieland fan, I’m intrigued. Maybe it’s not the best strategy to bank on directors who’ve only made one film you’ve completely enjoyed. However, it’s really like waiting for the next big break with him. I’ve followed Fleischer’s career after such a huge success that wowed audiences and critics alike. It received a whopping 90% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes and an average of 73 on Metacritic, which is fantastic for any director, let alone for a debut film. Underneath the zombie portion of the film lay a more touching, relatable story about family in the post-apocalypse. It was a disaster film with a hopeful ending, which is even more refreshing in hindsight. So call it rose-tinted glasses and ridiculous optimism, but if Fleischer could re-create something that aptly balances laughs and heart together with the frankly fascinating pairing of Cena and Nanjiani, it could be a hit.
Nevertheless, his actual filmography post-Zombieland will serve to stain the rug a little. Fleischer opted for a more emotionally-fettered follow-up film with 30 Minutes or Less, which premiered below expectations at the box office and raked in decidedly mixed reviews. Audiences were more forgiving of its cruder jokes but critics settled for calling it “Pineapple Express gone sour.” Its inconsistency in tone and lack of specific direction was a consistent complaint: “Fleischer isn’t playing with our expectations or expanding his movie’s range, just swinging wild and knocking over the furniture – or in this case, the genre.” As a buddy comedy in and of itself, there is tentative worry that whatever untitled Cena-Nanjiani project is around the corner would emulate the mistakes that 30 Minutes or Less made.
It’s worth noting that Fleischer has experienced success in the streaming world with Santa Clarita Diet most recently. The show serves up a good amount of gore and laughs, although heart comes a little later in the series. Its exceedingly gory beginnings — sometimes touted as being a tester against the faint of heart — are definitely attributed to Fleischer, who directed the opening two episodes. He’s also working on Venom at the moment for Sony’s Spidey-verse, which will reportedly also have horror undertones to it. Fleischer seems to work extraordinarily well within that genre, so straying away from it towards buddy cop territory might mess things up again.
Or it might not, because one thing is for certain: the cast is solid. Cena and Nanjiani have built their respective fanbases in niche comedy performances. It might have once been easy to chuck either actor into a stereotypical box: Cena because his name is literally a huge selling point for certain films, and Nanjiani because Hollywood is unimaginative with funny Asian men. But their actual successes have proven to hold real staying power for audiences. Cena’s comedy appearances have been minor but memorable. But particularly for Nanjiani, who first gained exposure and success in HBO’s Silicon Valley, co-wrote and starred in one of the most charming and affecting movies in 2017. FSR adores The Big Sick, and Nanjiani showcased the ability to balance the acerbic and the heartfelt in that film alone. Imagining him playing that Jesse-Eisenberg-in-Zombieland character in this new Fleischer production is quite a treat.
The new untitled Ruben Fleischer project already sounds like it has enough for a hilarious summer romp, but a lot of it still depends on whether Fleischer will play to his strengths as a filmmaker. This cast is awesome and he really shouldn’t squander it.