Zombieland: Double Tap (2019)
Ten years after 2009’s runaway hit Zombieland, director Ruben Fleischer returns to the land of the living dead with Zombieland: Double Tap — the film’s subtitle is a playful riff on Columbus’ #2 rule of surviving in Z-land, The Double Tap. I’m happy to report that, with Zombieland 2, Fleischer has re-captured the humor, wit, charm, and snarky personality of the former film — it seems that there’s still some bite left in this zom-com series yet. Zombieland 2 introduces us to a handful of memorable new characters while continuing the story of Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), Wichita (Emma Stone), and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) as they travel through the American heartland adjusting to their apocalyptic surroundings trying their darnedest to evade the hordes of flesh-eating walkers or rotters, or whatever else they’re called nowadays. You’ll recall the original Zombieland was released about a year before AMC’s The Walking Dead premiered and since then zombie-centric entertainment has become all the more accessible.
So, the cinematic landscape has certainly changed from when we last visited the titular Zombieworld, and feeding that ‘undead’ desire has become all the more commonplace — getting a nice little ‘thank you’ from Eisenberg’s Columbus as the movie opens, for choosing this zombie-themed flick over the infestation of others, is a bang-up way to kick-start the proceedings.
A decade has passed since the ’09 original, and we’re re-acquainted with the makeshift ‘family’ as they blast bullets through some nasty dead-heads, having become experts in identifying and disposing of various zombies types — there’s the dopey Homer (don’t waste a shell on these guys), the intelligent Hawking (named after the physicist), and the silent killer, Ninja (who, well, sneaks up for the slaughter). The foursome has undoubtedly grown closer, moving into an abandoned White House where they’ve learned to navigate life’s ups and downs while trying to avoid having their brains chewed on for lunch. Surviving is tough — but that’s life now!
It seems that society has also adapted to this new gore-splattered reality, with survivors not only unofficially competing for ‘Zombie Kill of the Week,’ but ‘Zombie Kill of the Year’ now too — because, ya know, with the zombie genre being so overcrowded, why not come up with the most brutal and absurd ways to off the reanimated. Granted, this all adds to the comedic tone and silliness of the whole thing; and it’s here where Double Tap truly outdoes itself, giving us perhaps the most excessive, OTT zombie takedown in zombie movie history — the ‘Zombie Kill of the Year’ set in Pisa, a famous region of Italy, is by far the film’s standout gag! Towers do lean.
Getting back to our geographically named protagonists, a lot has changed since we last caught up with them. Columbus and Wichita are now paired up, and the good-hearted nerd is planning on tying the knot with his lady beloved, while de-facto patriarch Tallahassee is still smothering Little Rock who, these days at eighteen is not so little anymore. Alas, although in the midst of a sleepwalker Armageddon, it’s good ol’ human relationship/ emotional hitches that sends the girls running — Wichita gets cold feet from Columbus’ proposal while Little Rock wants to forge her own road as a young adult.
Unfortunately for Wichita she’s quickly left in the lurch after her younger sis shacks up with a guitar-strumming hippie from Berkeley named, you guessed it, Berkeley (Avan Jogia), the two, hand in hand, headed to Graceland in a rundown minivan, and later a fortified commune of pacifists known as Babylon. Wichita, of course, races straight back to the boys for help, discovering that they’ve moved on in the short time that she’s been away — she finds Columbus sharing bed and board with a ditzy blonde named Madison (Zoey Deutch), after the capital of Wisconsin. With Columbus and Tallahassee agreeing to rescue Little Rock and bring her back home, the race is on, the ragtag team having to wrestle with matters of the heart, general life, and an emerging new threat — an evolved zombie nicknamed T-800 (cue the Terminator quips) — on the road to Memphis, Tennessee, home of The King.
While Edgar Wright’s definitive Shaun of the Dead (2004) is generally considered to be the pinnacle of zom-coms, Zombieland came a close second with the film reinvigorating a genre that was very much stiff and decaying back in 2009. Double Tap more or less does that same thing, but ten years on: it breathes new life into the franchise by presenting our heroes with bigger, badder challenges to overcome, with more elaborate set pieces, doubling down on gory, inventive kills. Boasting an increased budget, this film is is sleeker (filmed with ARRI Alexa cameras) and more graphic than its precursor, featuring bucketloads of crimson-covered albeit comical splatter, and a revved-up climax that blows ’09’s shutdown amusement park ending sky high; however, stylistically and aesthetically, both films are relatively similar, even though they’ve been shot a decade apart with different tech.
Wholly living up to its predecessor (and then some), Zombieland: Double Tap continues the narrative in a way that’s fresh and organic, picking up right where the last left off — so, no, this is not a blatant cash-grab rehash. Admittedly, it’s the snappy script by returning scribes Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, of Deadpool (2016) fame, who are this time joined by writer Dave Callaham, Godzilla (2014), that makes this one a cut above the rest — when it comes to cold body fare. Essentially what we have is a zombie road movie peppered with hilarious little pit stops and a handful of fun self-aware jokes and moments. The animated Columbia logo aptly sets the scene. It’s a story set in a functioning world that’s amusingly attuned to its doom-and-gloom setting, a place populated by three-dimensional characters who share genuine chemistry — and have a real sense of family.
Just like Ruben Fleischer, who’s clearly happy to be back — Zombieland 2’s scheduling has effectively forced Sony to remove him as director of their upcoming Venom sequel, and he doesn’t seem too phased about it — the cast, also, is all having a blast to be back in their respective roles. Stars Eisenberg (in full rapid-fire chatter mode), Harrelson (who gets to rock some groovy Elvis threads), Stone, and Breslin are uniformly great, each nailing the drama beats and comic delivery, not afraid of going all out for a laugh.
The film’s ace in the hole, though, is the fresh blood that’s been injected, these players infusing their own distinct flavor to the roster of well-known characters. Rosario Dawson, Sin City (2005), gives Harrelson’s lonesome cowboy something of a love interest to stalk as Nevada, a tough-as-nails proprietor of an Elvis-themed hotel, whereas relative ingenue Zoey Deutch, Set It Up (2018), is an absolute scene-stealer as sorority sister Madison, a bubblegum pink-wearing valley girl who drives a wedge between lovebirds Columbus and Wichita. Deutch is a simply magnetic and the real MVP, transforming a scatterbrain stereotype into somebody winsome and appealing; she manages to outshine her Oscar-nominated costars in all of her scenes by radiating some much needed fizz and sparkle to the sarcasm exuded by the core group. Lastly, Luke Wilson, Old School (2003), and Thomas Middleditch, The Final Girls (2015), steal the show as Albuquerque and Flagstaff respectively, bizarro versions of Tallahassee and Columbus, complete with their own set of do-or-die ‘Rules’ known as ‘Commandments’ — these ludicrous look-alikes (according to some Zombieland trivia) hold the original names for Woody Harrelson and Jesse Eisenberg’s characters, their handful of scenes cleverly choreographed and a real riot.
For a project languished in development hell for several years, Zombieland: Double Tap is a commendable effort, coming off as a confident second instalment — it’s manic and wildly energetic, with some solid character stuff and nifty photography to boot. Either way, I’d be up for a Zombieland 3: Beware of Bathrooms, which is saying something, considering that when it comes to the ‘biters’ genre, I’m all tapped out! Oh, be sure to sit through the closing credits for a) Woody Harrelson’s rendition of the Elvis Presley rock-pop classic ‘Burning Love,’ and b) a preposterous mid-credit scene that takes us all the way back to Day Zero (the beginning of the zombie outbreak), which, funnily, coincides with the release of *spoiler alert* the fictional Garfield 3: Flabby Tabby — you don’t wanna miss this, trust me!
3.5 / 5 – Great
Reviewed by S-Littner