The “double tap” in Zombieland: Double Tap refers to shooting a zombie twice to see if it’s still alive, and that’s what the filmmakers have done here — shot the zombie comedy a second time to see if there’s still life after the charming original. Lucky for all of us, there is. The film set box office records for the genre upon its release 10 years ago, and it’s clear that the meta humor still works. Still, while seeing the quartet of heroes reflexively poking fun at the walking dead is as clever as it was in 2009, the scattershot tone and obscene imagery aren’t groundbreaking anymore. Instead of trying to push the boundaries again, director Ruben Fleischer settles for more of the same.
“You have a lot of choices when it comes to zombie entertainment,” Columbus (Jessie Eisenberg) declares in the opening voice-over. “So thanks for picking us.” He’s not lying. Ever since Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later released in 2002, the genre’s popularity spread faster than a world-ending disease. From Shaun of the Dead to World War Z, the undead have become an enduring and even beloved part of our culture. In a matter of weeks kids are going to be walking from door to door as zombies for Halloween.
By the way, in case there’s any question, do not bring the youngsters to see Zombieland: Redux. It may be a comedy but it’s extremely violent. It opens with a slow motion action sequence in front of an abandoned White House, where skulls explode like dropped watermelons. After a couple minutes of stoic closeups, and a couple dozen dead zombies, the remaining cast members make themselves at home in the Oval Office.
Eisenberg returns as the too-smart-for-his-own-good Columbus, and he’s still dating the wicked Wichita (Emma Stone). Their relationship is on the fritz. He’s still neurotic, with sweaty palms and a long list of rules for survival. She’s still a badass who’s tired of Columbus’ President Taft jokes. While that friction is happening, Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson) is trying to connect with Little Rock (Abigail Breslin), the daughter he never had. These contrasting personalities are played to comedic perfection.
As before, the fun comes from watching four people who usually wouldn’t talk to each other in a normal world become family during the apocalypse. Now they need each other more than ever. With Darwins’ Theory of Evolution extending to zombies, some of the flesh eating creatures have developed the capacity to dodge bullets. “The T-800s!” Columbus calls them in honor of The Terminator’s irrevocable invincibility. Others aren’t so lucky in the natural selection scheme of things. The “Homers” are as slow as Homer Simpson, while the “Hawkings” are intelligent yet immobile.
Somewhere in between the two is the scene stealing Madison (Zoey Deutch). A dumb blonde dressed from head to toe in pink, Madison made it this far because zombies eat brains, and she doesn’t have any. She’s a welcome presence. Likewise, so are Luke Wilson and Thomas Middleditch playing Columbus and Tallahasee’s doppelgangers.
Despite the endearing newcomers the sequel has nothing new to offer audiences. It’s as if Fleischer told his screenwriters to take the same script from the first film and simply change the wording — much like a student rewording an essay they handed in the prior semester. That applies to the road trip premise (one member wanders off; the rest venture off to find them), and it especially applies to similarly themed pit stops that include Elvis’ Graceland and a hippy commune called Babylon.
Not all the retreading is brain dead, however. The “zombie kill of the week” leitmotif is a hoot, as is the moment when an Italian tips over the Leaning Tower of Pisa on a couple stray zombies. Harrelson yelling catchphrases like “Lets kick some dicks!” show returning writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick (who also penned the droll deadpan of Deadpool) at their best. The writing duo have a sadistic sense of humor, but they seem to be phoning it in when it comes to character development and action sequences.
Action/comedies shouldn’t just be one or the other, and this sequel would’ve been better had it striven for more. The tradition of depth embedded into zombie films like The Night of the Living Dead — sociopolitical subtexts on race, globalism and capitalism — are vague if nowhere to be found. It would have been nice to see Zombieland: Double Tap have something more to say than one=liners, or even add a few original jokes. Instead, it merely brings the old ones back to life.