Ten years after Zombieland, Ruben Fleischer returns to the apocalyptic landscape of his funny, fresh and winning feature debut with Zombieland: Double Tap, but fails to live up to the quality of the inaugural outing. The principal quartet of performers are game (three Oscar nominees and one winner), but the screenplay by Dave Callaham and original writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick leaves Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), Wichita (Emma Stone), Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) and Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) stuck in a familiar loop. Despite the warmed-up leftovers, Zombieland: Double Tap manages to locate a few bright spots, and none are more appealing than Zoey Deutch. As the pink-loving, mall-dwelling moron Madison, Deutch manages the near impossible: she adds empathy and wit to what would otherwise be a broad stereotype.
Zombieland based much of its successful formula on self-awareness, and the sequel continues in that vein. Logic, however, is another matter entirely. Does it make sense that Wichita and Little Rock would pull up stakes and abruptly forge ahead on their own (making off with Tallahassee’s custom ride no less)? If belief is to be suspended, the now-grown younger sister seeks her first taste of romance while Wichita flees from a marriage proposal and the stale routine she shares with the safe and predictable Columbus. The couple’s bed barely has time to get cold before convenient placeholder Madison arrives to keep Columbus company.
The ensuing triangle mimics many of the tried and true conventions of the 1930s screwball comedy, especially its interest in the complications and/or love-and-hate riffs played out in classics like Trouble in Paradise and Libeled Lady. It may be a stretch to link a contemporary zombie trifle to the work of directors Ernst Lubitsch and Jack Conway, but Deutch and Stone deliver their respective jabs with arch comic timing that often channels originators like Jean Harlow, Miriam Hopkins and Myrna Loy. Some of the most entertaining scenes in Zombieland: Double Tap capitalize on Eisenberg’s hangdog expressions of guilt. Breslin, meanwhile, is treated as an afterthought. Separated from the core group, she disappears for long stretches.
In 2009, Zombieland already owed something significant to Shaun of the Dead, and the appearance in Zombieland: Double Tap of Luke Wilson and Thomas Middleditch as dead ringers for Tallahassee and Columbus ranks among the movie’s least inspired choices. Even worse is the inexplicable decision to set some of the action at The White House without even a trace of the kind of political satire that should have been centralized. Harrelson’s “nut up or shut up” barbarian so readily suggests a kind of Second Amendment MAGA parody that Zombieland: Double Tap practically begs for some kind of pertinent commentary that never materializes.
Most curious of all, Zombieland: Double Tap spends more time ignoring the clear and present danger of the undead to focus on the rambling road trip undertaken to retrieve Little Rock from a neo-hippie enclave called Babylon (pronounced “Baby Lon” by Madison). The safe haven is run by nitwits who inexplicably melt down any gun that makes it to the front gate. Viewers are told that a new strain of resilient zombies pose a grave threat, and Fleischer presents one shoot-’em-up set piece to visualize that risk, but Zombieland: Double Tap is unconcerned with reanimated corpses until it reaches the expected conclusion.
Greg Carlson (@gcarlson1972) is an associate professor of communication studies and the director of the interdisciplinary film studies minor program at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota. He is also the film editor of the High Plains Reader, where his writing has appeared since 1997.