3 out of 5 stars.
As far as post-apocalyptic zombie comedies go—and yes, I do believe that that is a genre in and of itself, thank you—it doesn’t get much better than “Zombieland.” The 2009 film directed by Ruben Fleischer takes place in an America that has been overrun by zombies, with the nerdy and structured Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) and the more gung-ho, rolling stone Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson) uniting with sisters Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) to try to survive. The first film was such a critical and commercial success that a sequel was almost immediately talked about—and as the years dragged on, it continued to languish in development hell. Now, a full decade later, “Zombieland: Double Tap” is here, with the original cast and director all back for round two. But after all this time, it feels less like a well-thought-out, original story, and more just like a blast of nostalgia.
Set years after the events of the first movie, “Double Tap” sees the group trying to find a safe place to put down roots and call home. They end up settling in the White House, but everyone besides Columbus is restless. Tallahassee wants to be on the move, while Little Rock is older now, and longs to both no longer be treated like a child and to find other young people her own age. Wichita is afraid of getting too attached, so when Columbus proposes to her, she panics and takes off with Little Rock. But when Little Rock subsequently runs off with a pacifist hippie (played by Avan Jogia), the gang has to get back together to track her down.
“Double Tap” is reminiscent of the first film in so many ways, from its over-the-top violence to its simultaneously wacky and dark sense of humor to its creative visuals. For instance, Columbus has a series of rules regarding the zombie apocalypse that he lives by (the title of this film is inspired by one), and every time he brings one up, the words appear on screen, not merely as a text overlay, but actually interacting with the environment. The dynamic between all the characters and their different personalities is also very funny and very sweet. The dialogue is sharp and they get themselves into all manner of ridiculous situations, many brought on by some new faces to the franchise. Rosario Dawson appears as Nevada, a love interest for Tallahassee, and Luke Wilson and Thomas Middleditch play Albuquerque and Flagstaff, a duo who are remarkably similar in appearance and manner to Tallahassee and Columbus. The biggest new addition is Zoey Deutch’s Madison, a perky, preppy idiot who stumbles into the gang at a mall, and whose stupidity is either hilariously annoying, or annoyingly hilarious (really, she’s a character who probably didn’t need nearly as much screen time as she got, but what can you do).
For all that “Double Tap” is a blast to watch, you get the feeling that it is just an inferior version of the first movie. This film also finds the characters trying to find a sanctuary—although, what else are you going to do with yourself during the zombie apocalypse?—and employs the same road trip, buddy comedy format, but it introduces some unnecessary elements as well, like, uh, Madison, and a new, more powerful strain of zombies that they nickname the T-800s. The latter in particular is supposedly the main threat, but they are brought up so briefly, you almost forget about them until the film’s massive battle at the climax. Even the tradition of a great cameo is recycled during a mid-credits scene (although it is, admittedly, a great scene).
“Double Tap” is definitely not as fresh as “Zombieland,” and it really hinges its success on the audience’s love for that first movie. We already know this universe, these characters, and their brand of humor, so we enter this sequel ready and willing to enjoy it no matter what. At just over 90 minutes, it’s fast-paced and never dull to watch. But this feels less like the writers had a really great story to tell, and more like they just wanted an excuse to get the gang back together again.
Runtime: 99 minutes. Rated R.