A film review by Craig J. Koban November 3, 2019

ZOMBIELAND: DOUBLE TAP jjj

2019, R, 93 mins.

 

Woody Harrelson as Tallahassee  /  Jesse Eisenberg as Columbus  /  Emma Stone as Wichita (Krista)  /  Abigail Breslin as Little Rock  /  Rosario Dawson as Nevada  /  Zoey Deutch as Madison  /  Avan Jogia as Berkeley

Directed by Ruben Fleischer  /  Written by Rhett Reese, Dave Callaham, and Paul Wernick

There have been so many zombie themed movies over the years that any new effort seeing the light of day has to work relative overtime in terms of infusing some innovation in this over-packed genre.  

I think it's easy to forget what a relative breath of fresh air 2009's ZOMBIELAND was, which found a way of balancing gore and undead mayhem with a satiric sensibility that helped segregate it well apart from other offerings.  Cleverly amalgamating self-aware laughs, splatterhouse action sequences, and a very game cast that all seemed in on the subversive joke, ZOMBIELAND - like a SHAUN OF THE DEAD before it - was as infectiously goofy and well oiled of a horror comedy as one could expect. 

Herein lies the problem, though, when it comes to comedy sequels (especially ones being released so well long after the opening of their predecessors): They rarely, if ever, match the high laugh quotient of what came before, and mostly fail at adding unique elements in to make it feel compellingly and hilariously different.  This brings us to ZOMBIELAND: DOUBLE TAP, which has somewhat dubiously come out a full decade after its joyously entertaining prequel, which leaves it, in turn, in an extra thorny predicament: will fans of the first still care and want to - pardon the pun - consume a new franchise installment so late in the game?.  On a positive, this sequel rather smartly assembles the first film's director in Rueben Fleischer and the entire quartet of stars that appeared beforehand in Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, and Abigail Breslin.  I'm happy to report that ZOMBIELAND: DOUBLE TAP is a better sequel to the cult classic than it probably has any business of being, and one that scores many big laughs when needed on top of added some much needed new characters into the mix to mingle with the returning cast.  

A lot can happen in ten years, especially in the post-apocalyptic walking dead covered wasteland that is the U.S. in this series.  Harrelson returns as everyone's favorite red necked wanna-see-how-hard-I-can-punch zombie hunter Tallahassee, who has grown accustomed to living with his new surrogate family in Jesse Eisenberg's dweeby/rule abiding Columbus, his girlfriend in Emma Stone's Wichita, and her little (well, not quite so little anymore) sister in Abigail Breslin's Little Rock (established in the first film's mythology, they have all never exchanged their real names and instead are referred to by their respective birth cities).  It's pretty amazing, in retrospect, what this cast has accomplished in their post ZOMBIELAND 1 film work, with Harrelson netting an Oscar nomination for THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI and Eisenberg also garnering one for this work on THE SOCIAL NETWORK.  Stone even won one for her stupendous work on LA LA LAND, and Breslin has, well, physically grown up the most and into young adulthood.  With a cast this busy during the last several years - and with them all becoming more in demand as A-listers - then maybe it's no wonder why this sequel took so long to re-assemble them all. 

 

 

Anyhoo', this clan - in the opening stages of this follow-up entry - has found a new home in the well abandoned White House (yes, that one), and things seem to be moving along swimmingly for all, so much so that the hopeless romantic in Columbus decides that it's time to propose to Wichita...in the Lincoln bedroom no less (one thing this sequel never explains is why he never popped the question years earlier, seeing as they've been an exclusive item for a decade).  Well, Wichita gets defensively cold feet very quickly and decides to abruptly leave the heartbroken Columbus and Tallahassee...potentially for good...with her sister in tow.  This leaves the two men to journey back on the road together alone, that is until they befriend a blonde ditz named Madison (Zoey Deutch), who's been living alone for years in a mall's frozen yogurt store.  The intellectually challenged, but shockingly bubbly (considering the apocalypse) girl takes an instant liking to Columbus, which makes matters really awkward when Wichita returns to them, but with the bad news that Little Rock has gone on the run with a free loving Berkeley hipster (Avan Jogia), whose make love, not war stance places Little Rock in danger, leaving Tallahassee and company frantically going on the offensive to locate her. 

To be fair, Fleischer has had a decidedly so-so career over the last ten years, helming films of hit or miss quality in GANGSTER SQUAD (also starring Stone), 13 MINUTES OR LESS (also starring Eisenberg), and, most recently, VENOM.  He thankfully goes back to the stylistic well of what made ZOMBIELAND so visually appealing and viscerally offbeat, which can be immediately felt in DOUBLE TAP's opening few seconds, especially when the Columbia Pictures logo comes to life to smash some invading zombies on the cranium (nice touch).  This is followed by a splendidly nifty looking opening credit montage featuring the four heroes battle their way to the White House through one zombie after another, with Tallahassee showing the most sadistic pleasure with each new ghastly kill (Metallica also blasts in the background to help accentuate the slow mo carnage).  It would be easy to criticize Fleischer for just regurgitating a similar aesthetically charged montage that opened the first one, but it's such an unmitigated hoot to be re-introduced to these characters again - all of which have become that much more battle harded and lethal - that nitpicking gets thrown to the wayside. 

Returning writers Paul Wernick and Rhett Reese (who in the interim time penned DEADPOOL 1 and 2) also manage to spice things up a bit in terms of embellishing the already established zombie lore, especially when it comes to showcasing how these undead monsters have evolved.  Some brain eaters, called "The Hawking" (named after you-know-who), have become super smart, whereas others like the T-800s are unstoppably hungry to get their hands on human flesh (they are also very hard to kill).  Not all zombies have changed for the better, like the amusingly named "Homers" (in short, extremely dumb zombies).  They also manage to introduce some new players as well, most notably Deutch's Madison, who's clueless in manners almost incomprehensible consider the madness that surrounds her.  With her pink sweats and tank top and perpetual Valley Girl proclamations (she's also a vegan), Madison initially comes off as a fairly grating caricature, but Deutch is so undeniably charming and warm that her character miraculously grows more adorably tolerable as the film progresses.  Also thrown in is Rosario Dawson's Nevada, who runs an Elvis worshiping shrine of a hotel just outside of Graceland that really appeals to the King loving Tallahassee.  Perhaps one of the funniest - and most meta - new characters come in the form of a group meet-cute, of sorts, between Tallahassee and Columbus with Luke Wilson's Albuquerque and Thomas Middleditch's Flagstaff, the latter two being hilariously identical doppelgangers to them in multiple ways (Flagstaff even has commandments to surviving the apocalypse, muck akin to Columbus already time-honored rules). 

Not all of the characters are well drawn, like the very under-developed new hippie love interest to Little Rock that wants to take her to a weapons-free, but peace loving commune well guarded from zombie hordes (he's good for a couple of laughs, but beyond that he's essentially a plot device used to move the story forward for an ultimate reunion between all of the main heroes).  This, of course, builds towards ZOMBIELAND: DOUBLE TAP's finale, which bares an uncanny resemblance to the first film's third act, albeit this time everyone's relatively safe and secure within a giant monster truck, which leads to some massive zombie decimation with ease (perhaps one of the problems with this film and the last one is that you never really feel that these characters are ever in any real danger of being gobbled up by the decaying hordes around them).  I will give ZOMBIELAND: DOUBLE TAP props for still being able to come  up with novel new ways of killing zombies, especially after all perceivable possibilities have been explored in movies and on TV.  For example, this is arguably the only film in history that demonstrates how Italy's Leaning Tower of Pisa can be used to murder zombies (don't ask).   

When I stop and think about it, there's really not that much substantial scripting at play here in ZOMBIELAND: DOUBLE TAP, and even with new locations and characters thrown into the mixing bowl, not many other new ingredients make it in.  If anything, the sequel is yet another road trip effort through zombie plagued America with a few well realized detours, and not much else.  Parts of me don't think ZOMBIELAND: DOUBLE TAP is worthy of a cinema visit, and it certainly isn't as free wheeling and devilishly  sly as its antecedent; it's more of a retread than a true sequel that dares to take these beloved characters in a new directions.  But, yeah, it's such a simple pleasure to spend time with them again that it helps cement the film as enjoyably low calorie comfort food that goes down well and is worth a watch on the big screen...and generally worth the egregiously long wait.  Seeing this highly dysfunctional clan get over their respective differences again to nut up and shut up and keep themselves alive from the monsters that lurk around them at every turn...is still pretty giddily entertaining.  

And one last thing: ZOMBIELAND: DOUBLE TAP contains the greatest mid-end credits scene...like...ever.  

You'll know that I mean when you see it. 

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