Ten years after Zombieland was a sleeper hit, the gang reunites for a sequel to mixed results. In the decade since Zombieland, its stars have gone onto greater and greater success. Jesse Eisenberg became an Oscar nominee, Woody Harrelson added two more Oscar nominations to his collection, and Emma Stone won an Oscar. Abigail Breslin, the youngest of the cast and already an Oscar nominee by Zombieland, grew up and arrived at Zombieland: Double Tap a fully formed adult. Behind the camera, director Ruben Fleischer hit the jackpot with Venom¸ and writers Rhett Reeese and Paul Wernick have a cottage industry writing cheeky meta-comedies for Ryan Reynolds. A new writer for the sequel, David Callaham, has credits upcoming on Wonder Woman 1984 and Shang-Chi and the Ten Rings. What I’m saying is that these are busy people and they all have way better stuff to do than make a Zombieland sequel. That they made room in their schedules to reunite must mean they had some compelling reason, right? Well…no. I wonder if I asked any one of these people why they made Zombieland: Double Tap, could they give me a solid reason beyond “we wanted to hang out again”?
Double Tap picks up years into the zombie apocalypse. Survivors have adapted to the new normal, naming different types of zombies according to behavioral habits: slow, easily distracted zombies are “Homers”; a new kind of fast, hyper-aggressive zombie is called the “T-800”. (References, we got ’em!) The group from the first movie, Tallahassee (Harrelson), Wichita (Stone), Little Rock (Breslin), and Columbus (Eisenberg) have moved into the White House, a fortified and relatively safe position. But they’re getting bored, with Little Rock desperate to get out and meet people her own age, and Wichita balking at Columbus’s attempts to progress their relationship. It’s a decent set up for a sequel, and Double Tap addresses these early set-ups by the end. And yet, something doesn’t click in Double Tap. It’s not that the movie feels lazy, it just feels pointless.
After ten years and what must have been a brutal scheduling process given how in-demand everyone is, you’d think Double Tap would have a real, driving impetus. Zombieland came along before the zombie wave rose in pop culture, opening a year before The Walking Dead premiered on AMC. It was referential of a genre only just beginning to get traction in pop culture after a dormant period in the 1990s. But in 2002, 28 Days Later revived zombies as serious cinematic subjects, and then Shaun of the Dead brought zombie comedy to cult status in 2004. Zombieland looked at a fresh spate of zombie cinema and poked fun at what were already becoming stale tropes by 2009. Double Tap, however, offers no such perspective. It comes after the zombie wave has crashed, and yet it has nothing to say about the rise and fall of zombies in the 2010s. Though there are a couple jabs at dated jokes, the humor is firmly entrenched in 2009, without even a hint of irony at how badly much of 2009’s humor has aged.
It’s not a total loss, though. It is fun to watch Harrelson, Stone, Breslin, and Eisenberg together, though Breslin gets short shrift here and seems frustrated by the whole thing. But Zoey Deutch is a solid addition as Madison, an airhead who survived by hiding in a mall freezer, and Rosario Dawson is a nice foil for Harrelson. Luke Wilson and Thomas Middleditch pop in as a bizzaro version of Tallahassee and Columbus, which is a bit that is wisely not extended too long. And there is a GREAT scene mid-movie, a dizzying close-quarter zombie attack in an Elvis-themed motel. There are moments of Double Tap that work, like this motel scene, and there are others that feel wasted, like everything with Madison, and a peace-loving sanctuary called Babylon. Deutch generates laughs because she’s a goddamn star and can make even a paper-thin role like Madison funny, but what a huge waste of her potential to not embed into her character a clever quirk or meta-reference. Filmmakers should be fined if they waste Zoey Deutch’s time. And I thought anti-gun Babylon would be set up as a foil to Tallahassee’s gunned-up system of defense, but no. Tallahassee has to come in and show the hippies how it’s done. Again, there was potential there to do something clever, like in the motel scene, but that potential goes untapped.
There are worse things than Zombieland: Double Tap. Fans of Zombieland should be satisfied. It just feels like a waste to make a meta-textual zom-com after zombies peaked in pop culture. If anyone could take on zombie exhaustion it’s the Zombieland team, they just weren’t interested, I guess. Everyone is good at their jobs, so the movie looks fine and except for Breslin’s visible boredom, everyone seems to be having a nice time. I just wish, given the sheer talent involved, that it added up to more than this. Zombieland was a genuine surprise, an unexpected sarcastic breath of undead air in the genre. Double Tap has its moments, but overall there is nothing surprising or fresh or interesting here. The sarcasm, however, remains intact.
Attached - Jesse Eisenberg and Ruben Fleischer promoting Double Tap in Austin last week.