Director Ruben Fleischer gets the band back together for a no-stakes sequel that gives Emma Stone a chance to flex the comic chops that made her a star
ZOMBIELAND: DOUBLE TAP (Ruben Fleischer). 99 minutes. Some subtitles. Opens Friday (October 18). See listing. Rating: NNN
Full disclosure: I was not a fan of the original Zombieland.
Although even calling it “original” seems like a stretch – when Ruben Fleischer’s semi-satirical horror comedy arrived a decade ago, it felt like a wobbly riff on my beloved Shaun Of The Dead, but nihilistic snark replacing the complex characters and loving homage of Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg’s horror comedy.
But maybe I was overly protective maybe Zombieland, focusing on a quartet of survivors who form a ragtag family in an America overrun by the raging undead, became a cult classic for a reason? So I revisited it, and… nope, it’s still pretty lame.
The first Zombieland became a cult hit specifically because it was content to coast on giddy digital splatter and a knowing tone that framed the whole thing as one big joke, despite its leads – Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin – playing things more or less straight. Nothing matters, and no one’s in any real danger, despite the constant threat of rampaging flesh-eaters. It’s like a scary movie with training wheels.
So I was not expecting much from Zombieland: Double Tap, which brings the entire band back together – all four stars, director Fleischer, and screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick – for another run at the IP.
And you know what? It’s fine.
I mean, it’s just as undercooked as the first one, wasting most of the concept’s potential and even adding more potential that it fails to develop. The zombies, we’re told, have evolved: now some of them are capable of solving problems, and some of them are so good at sneaking up on victims that they’re practically ninjas. (Others are dumb as a post – they call them Homers.) And there’s talk of a newer, virtually unstoppable variant out there in Zombieland.
Our heroes aren’t worrying too much about any of this, having made a home for themselves in the White House. Columbus (Eisenberg) and Wichita (Stone) are still together, with Tallahassee (Harrelson) and Little Rock (Breslin) their surrogate dad and daughter, more or less.
But Little Rock is feeling stifled and restless, and wants to see if she can find a boyfriend out in the wasteland – seriously, that’s the totality of her character development – and when Wichita freaks out at Columbus’s marriage proposal, that’s a good excuse for the two young women to leave. Thus Double Tap finds a reason for its characters to go back out into the world, kill more zombies and make a few new human friends.
The stakes are way low, as one of those new characters would put it, and this time around the actors know what’s expected of them, which is nothing. It’s not that they’re better than the material, exactly – although they are – but there’s something about watching Harrelson, Eisenberg, Stone and Breslin just power through every scene with effortless skill, putting weird spins on the jokes and doing fun stuff in the margins and just plain not giving a shit about the drama.
(It’s been a while since Stone has been this consistently lively, as though she’s been given license to reconnect with the whip-smart, wild-card energy of her early comic roles in Superbad and The House Bunny and Easy A she’s far and away the best thing about Double Tap, and the movie is smart enough to know it.)
In a weird way, Double Tap feels truer to the superficial conceit of the franchise there’s no real chance these movies would drop any of the core characters, so why even pretend to be worried about someone getting bitten or killed? Especially since Columbus is still yammering away in voiceover from some omniscient position in the multiverse, even thanking us for choosing to return to this particular zombie franchise at the outset. Nothing’s real, man.
And the general sense of so-whattery gives the new cast members license to go broader than they otherwise might have. Zoey Deutch is having the very best time as Madison, a survivor who is not quite as dumb as she looks but is still really, really dumb. She’s the Valley Girl equivalent of Harrelson’s character on Cheers, which is sort of sweet when you think about it, and Deutch makes her a joy to behold, radiating the confused enthusiasm of a golden retriever in every shot.
A few other faces turn up, and they’re fun and I don’t want to spoil the movie’s best gag, even though Sony’s marketing department put them in the trailer because of course they did. (It’s also a blatant lift from Shaun Of The Dead, though at least time Fleischer, Reese and Wernick build something new on top of it this time.) And, again, it’s just fun to see people show up and expand the scope of the movie’s universe a little.
That’s what Zombieland: Double Tap offers, I suppose: a chance to hang out in the world you presumably enjoyed the first time, with celebrity references and inventive zombie kills and a general sense that you don’t need to invest very much in anything or anyone on screen. It’s a post-apocalypse hangout movie. That’s a thing now, I guess. Happy Halloween.