Directed by Ruben Fleischer
Starring Woody Harrelson, Jessie Eisenberg, Emma Stone
Don’t get me wrong. Zombieland: Double Tap is lots of fun—I’m just wondering if it was necessary. Behind the scenes, it’s hard to see why the principals would bother to reunite and push this sequel out a decade after the original. Since Zombieland’s 2009 release, Harrelson has added two more Oscar nominations to his first for The People Vs. Larry Flynt; Jessie Eisenberg has gotten an Oscar nod and fashioned a career as a playwright; Emma Stone has gotten three Oscar nominations and won one for La La Land; writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick have moved on to the more of-the-moment Deadpool franchise; and director Ruben Fleischer has megged the blockbuster Venom. Certainly all of these talents have better and bigger things to do than apply defibrillator paddles to a sleeper hit that was never really a franchise to begin with.
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That lack of purpose is evident in the plot, as well. After presumably wandering the post-zombie apocalypse United States, rules-addled Columbus (Eisenberg), crotchety Tallahassee (Harrelson), snarky Wichita (Stone) and now-adolescent Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) have settled into the White House. (Why they wouldn’t be fighting for dibs over the presidential abode with other survivors is never really explained.) After Wichita is spooked by a marriage proposal from Columbus and Little Rock feels stifled by the paternally overbearing Tallahassee, the sisters bolt. But when Little Rock is besotted by a cute hippie named Berkeley (Avan Jogia) and runs up against resistance from her big sister, Little Rock runs away too, forcing Wichita to turn to Columbus and Tallahassee for help
In the middle of its self-reflexive gags, the original Zombieland at least got its narrative juice from the idea of these unlikely characters forming a family. But Zombieland: Double Tap doesn’t have as clear-cut a goal; it’s basically a string of jokes looking for a conflict. At one moment, it’s about the women in the group champing at the bit against expected roles—dutiful daughter, soon-to-be wife—but that idea is jettisoned when Wichita basically comes running back to the men. Columbus explains via opening voice-over the classifications of zombies that have sprung up in the interim: Homer (dumb and lumbering), Hawking (smart), Ninja (smart and fast), with a new strain named after the metal-morphing assassin from the Terminator movies that’s supposedly more lethal and harder to kill. But the climactic battle shows these super zombies to be pushovers. (Why would makeshift shields deter them?
New cast additions like Rosario Dawson, Luke Wilson, and Silicon Valley’s Thomas Middleditch float in and out like guest stars in a sitcom, with Zoey Deutch making most of an impression as Pinkberry refugee Madison. But it’s a sign of how outdated the screenwriters’ ideas of funny are when the best they can come up with for a smart actress like Deutch is a Valley Girl ditz, and the most piquant pop-cultural comment they can make is a zing on The Walking Dead, a zombie property that lost its relevance about four seasons ago. Zombieland: Double Tap is littered with these stale references—a post-credits sequence name-checking Garfield and Ghostbusters doesn’t help matters—and only the enthusiasm of its cast saves it from being a completely anachronistic slog.
Wait. Maybe the gameness of the principals explains why Zombieland: Double Tap exists: It’s a labor of love. That better be it. Otherwise this sequel would just be a lumbering, 99-minute Homer.
Photographs from Columbia Pictures