Cheap, creaky jokes and overstimulated filmmaking plague a too-late sequel no one asked for.
A lot can change in a decade. Ten years ago, everyone was still on the iPhone 3GS, “I Gotta Feeling” was sweeping the nation, and America was still basking in the throes of Obama’s ‘hope and change.’ What’s more, the zombie renaissance hadn’t already come and gone; The Walking Dead had yet to air, and we’d yet to get sick of the milporn fantasies of repetitive gory kills and limp social commentary that pervades much of the genre. In that gossamer time, 2009’s Zombieland hit perfectly, a winsome (if shallow) zombie comedy slicked up by Ruben Fleischer’s sick sense of humor and a grossly overqualified cast.
But the world is different now: we’re all older, tastes have grown more sophisticated, and the sheer saturation of the zombie genre (especially comedies) has worn us down to the point where you either have to innovate (see: the lovely One Cut of the Dead) or die. Unfortunately, Zombieland: Double Tap opts for the latter, rising from the grave to shamble through a creaky retread of decade-old jokes and lowest common denominator sitcom gags.
Since we last left our zombie-killing heroes — jittery rules-hound Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), gun-slinging redneck Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), pragmatic Wichita (Emma Stone) and precocious Little Rock (Abigail Breslin), the dysfunctional zombie family have found a happy home in a cleared-out White House, whiling away the hours and dying of boredom. Little Rock, in particular, resents the daily grind, and not having anyone her age to hang out with. In a fit of pique, she and a commitment-phobic Wichita run off one day, LR ending up with a weed-smoking, guitar-playing hippie named Berkeley (Avan Jogia). Returning to the boys with news of a new, super-strong zombie strain they call the T-800 (because pop culture references), the three hit the road in search of Little Rock, last seen heading toward Graceland.
It’s impossible to overstate just how creaky, dated, and downright mean-spiritedZombieland: Double Tap feels on the other end of the zombie craze than its predecessor. The same creative team returns from the first — Deadpool scribes Rhett Reese and Paul Vernick, alongside Dave Callaham) and Venom director Ruben Fleischer — and apparently, none of their sensibilities have evolved in the last decade. Organized even more loosely into a set of sitcommy sketches than the first, Double Tap has little else on its mind than the same gags over and over again: that zombie did dumb thing! Jesse Eisenberg is neurotic! Woody Harrelson is a hyperviolent macho dad! And boy are hippies naive and blondes dumb, amiright? By the end, I was genuinely surprised that Double Tap managed to skate by its entire 93-minute runtime without a single joke about airline food.
Doubly tragic is the extent to which its leads try so very hard to make its give-no-shits irreverence work. Eisenberg and Harrelson fit their models to a T, even if said characters are stuck in the same modes as a decade ago. One mid-film gag, in which the gang run into carbon copies of the two played by Luke Wilson and Thomas Middleditch, is an obnoxiously lazy nod to the broadness of the screenplay, even if it leads to the film’s sole moment of inventive zombie combat in an Elvis-themed motel. Stone is clearly over it all, and even Breslin is essentially written out for most of the movie. Rosario Dawson shows up as a ‘guy’s girl’ fantasy of a love interest for Tallahassee, but she gets so little to do she barely registers in the film’s radar. Double Tap‘s sole saving grace is Zoey Deutch as the aforementioned dumb blonde Madison — she at least commits to such ghoulish, old-fashioned material with enough gusto to spice up the remaining ensemble.
By the end, I was genuinely surprised that Double Tap managed to skate by its entire 93-minute runtime without a single joke about airline food.
Honestly, it’s hard to muster up enough enthusiasm to even write this review. Who is Zombieland: Double Tap for? Even the filmmakers hardly seem to understand why it exists, since so much of it feels like a half-hearted encore to jokes that turned to rotting flesh before Obama started his second term. Seriously, the climax is one long-form joke about how hippies love weed and group sex, and hate violence so much they won’t even kill zombies to survive. It’s the kind of labored humor that goes beyond good-natured ribbing into irrational grievance-airing about a subculture that hasn’t existed since the 70s.
It’s hard to get too bent out of a shape about a movie that shrugs at its own existence. What do you do with a movie this tired, this unenthusiastic about itself? Instead of making Zombieland a franchise, it’s probably best to let it die.
(PS: There’s one brief, brilliant gag in the mid-credits of Double Tap involving the first film’s most memorable aspect — Bill Murray as a down-to-earth zombie survivor, just living his life — that’s at least refreshing enough to wonder why they didn’t just make the sequel about that. When the post-credits scene is leagues better than the film you just sat through, you messed up good.)
Zombieland: Double Tap grumbles about hippies like your boomer grandpa and blows away zombies October 18th.