Well, it’s undeniable: Zombieland: Double Tap – sure as rotter stench – is a Zombieland sequel. I say that with pause, adoration, and admittance that fans of Ruben Fleischer’s sensational 2009 zom-com will have no trouble cocking-and-locking for another blast of mainstream genre tomfoolery. As someone who ranks Zombieland as an easily watchable subgenre satire worth humor and undead moxie, part two upgrades just enough but still ensures a like-minded viewing experience. Quite simply, it’s ten years later but not much has changed. Still the same graphic text overlays and neurotic apocalyptic survival, minus a few tricks that this festering old dog picks up along the way.
Since the events of Zombieland, zeds have evolved beyond mindless shamblers. “Hawkings” burn what little brain cells they have left to outsmart victims, “Ninjas” stealthily stalk their snacks, and “Homers’ – well, you know Homer Simpson? Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) and Wichita (Emma Stone) barricade themselves inside the White House as a means of protection, but teenage Little Rock yearns to fly her suffocating coop. Tallahassee’s overbearing parental “wisdom” is too much for a girl who’s never known friends her age, while Witchita struggles to accept Columbus’ domestic fantasies. So, the “sisters” do what they do best – run away, leave a note, and restart their own adventure. Too bad hormones are just the beginning of another dangerous passage through “Zombieland.”
I’ll be honest. Zombieland: Double Tap meanders out the gate with a feeling of “are they going to try anything new?” At first, it’s back to the same dysfunctional cooperation jokes and repetitive rules, but doubts eventually fade. What at first feels like a forced reunion makes room for incorporated additives like Zoey Deutch’s ditz-bomb Madison or advanced zombie personalities. It’s a decade later but *rarely* does Fleischer indicate he’s exploiting nostalgia. Once new blood invigorates familiar law-abiding formulas, expectations sway towards reinvented zed-head combat. It’s the same tight-as-twine players, but with new formations whether it be “Terminator” foes who just won’t die or cranially under-stimulated survivors (squeaky blonde bubble-gummer Madison).
It’s a bit odd what’s jettisoned from franchise canon (Tallahassee’s kicked his Twinkie obsession, it seems), but expelling such gags makes room for Tallahassee and Columbus’ doppelgangers. Enter Luke Wilson as Albuquerque and Thomas Middleditch as Flagstaff, meant to represent the sweetened mentorship that Columbus craves from Tallahassee. Cut to Flagstaff wearing Albuquerque’s cowboy hat while receiving words of affirmation, with Columbus looking on longingly. Zombieland: Double Tap is always best when familiar faces face outsider conflicts, such as Wichita’s scathing sass after meeting Columbus’ rebound fling or Tallahassee’s disdain for Albuquerque’s dueling gunslinger machismo. Same flavor of Zombieland comedy, but something more involved than Zombieland 1.5.
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This said, it’s hard not to want better for actors in selective moments. While Deutch is a constant source of relief in her couture pink jumpsuit, I’ve seen what the actress can accomplish and to trap her within sexpot moronics seems like a waste. Same for Stone’s arc as she continues to avoid relationships like plagues only to find unearned redemption. Bless Harrelson for living out Tallahassee’s Elvis obsession within the Graceland-adjacent Hound Dog Hotel – turned performative when trying to impress superfan proprietor Nevada (Rosario Dawson) – but dynamics are never better than Eisenberg and Middleditch playing mirror representations of one another. Tremendous casting and bit-committal (Columbus’ “rules” vs. Flagstaff’s “commandments”) that overshadows Little Rock’s doe-eyes towards poser hippie Berkeley (Avan Jogia) or some “10 years later” jokes that do pander to expectations.
“Zombie Kill Of The Week” gets rebranded as “Zombie Kill Of The Year,” now incorporating national monuments and vehicular crop-harvesting blades which ensures that yes, Zombieland: Double Tap spills, splatters, and squirts gore galore. We get squashed Homer heads like overripe cantaloupes, nasty zombie makeup on inhuman monsters, and whiz-bang horror action. Wichita mowing down waves of threats while Tallahassee bodyslams corpsers and Metallica blares. Just because we’re introduced to a no-weapons commune called “Babylon” doesn’t mean Tallahassee turns over a new pacifism leaf. Zombies are meaner, snarlier, and primed for more kills. It’s outwardly silly – Tallahassee’s bloodlust – but not skimping on the horror uglies. Boot-stomping, bullet-pumped, and exploding with vile spit-up.
Zombieland: Double Tap winks and nudges its way through a long-time-coming sequel, but earns its survival badges when cracking wits around new casts of characters. There’s nothing wrong with the franchise’s focal road warriors, but exploration benefits this oddly sat-on revival. I’ll reiterate – if you still cackle during Zombieland, 2019’s double-down will be no different. Ruben Fleischer does his best to answer the “Why nows” by asking them himself, through dialogue and narration, which can be fun in the right dosage (which Fleischer measures). Not sure we’ll need to revisit “Zombieland” in another lifetime from now, but there are no (well, minimal) complaints about the time we’ve shared.
Double Tap is an expected but well-adjusted Zombieland sequel that does just a bit more "nutting up" than "shutting up" to justify its wait.