Zombieland: Double Tap (2019)

OCTOBER 18, 2019


I've long been baffled by Hollywood's unwillingness to cash in the zombie trend; the original Zombieland made a boatload of money and a couple years later, World War Z somehow managed to become Brad Pitt's highest grossing movie ever despite well documented production troubles. And yet, there have only been a handful of major zombie movies since, as if the studios all decided to let the indie scene (and AMC TV of course) handle things rather than cash in like they usually do when there are two hit horror movies in the same sub-genre. Still, I still assumed Sony would have been quicker to finally get Zombieland: Double Tap going, as it's been a full decade since the original - might as well be a hundred years for a horror property. A big franchise can take that much time off and make its return an event, but not a fresh one like this - they really should have been on Zombieland 4 by now.

But since it took so long, they must have a ton of new ideas and a really good hook that got everyone to finally commit to making a sequel, right? Well... not so much. While there are a few fresh ideas, such as an advanced zombie that is nearly impossible to kill (bullet to the head doesn't work) and some fun new characters, it unfortunately feels like so many other comedy sequels, in that it's closer to remake than "next chapter", hitting a number of the same beats and more or less sticking to the same pattern of action scenes - a slo-mo driven opening set to Metallica and a big finale with a swarm of undead advancing on our heroes who are in an elevated position, with a few scattered and brief fights in the middle somewhere. It got to the point where I almost wished it DID have evil human characters (the lack of which was a big selling point for me in the original) to at least mix things up a bit.

So what IS the story here? Basically, after holing up in the White House for a while, we see that Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson) and Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) are more content with their life than Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) and Wichita (Emma Stone), and after Columbus tries to spice things up my proposing to Wichita, the two women bail. However, when Wichita makes a surprise return a month later, she tells the boys that Little Rock in turn ditched her in favor of a new group of friends (hippies, some of whom are actually in her age group), and thus the trio set out to find her to make sure she's OK and maybe convince her to stick with her sister.

Things are slightly complicated by the presence of Madison, a ditzy blonde played by Zoey Deutch. Columbus found her in the mall, learning she had been holed up in a Pinkberry for years, and as he had just been dumped by Wichita (and Madison in turn had been without any human contact for years) the two quickly hop into bed, leaving Wichita both jealous and annoyed when she returns. So basically they have the ingredients for a new dynamic (while checking in with Breslin every now and then with her hippie pals), but the script seems in a rush to retreat to more familiar scenarios and character interactions, so her role is a strictly supporting one, not a "full fledged new member". Other new characters show up, but most of them are only in it for a few minutes before they're turned into zombies and removed from the proceedings, which isn't enough time to give the film as a whole its own identity.

It also lacks the surprising pathos that helped make the original such a winner. Columbus discovering his parents were dead (and, specifically, Tallahassee being the one to shield him a bit from the news), the true nature of Tallahassee's "puppy"... there's nothing like that for either our returning characters or the new ones, making it feel even more weightless. This along with the limited zombie action (and even appearances; despite a number of wide shots of their car traveling, there's never any stragglers just kind of wandering around nearby - the things apparently only work in groups) has it almost feel like there's no actual danger in the world, let alone any psychological turmoil such a scenario would leave on them. Sure, Madison is funny enough, but would it have killed them to establish any sense of humanity for the character? Or Rosario Dawson's Nevada, who we know even less about? I kept thinking about how well Last Man on Earth (RIP) handled this sort of thing; you'd be laughing at Will Forte in a dinosaur suit one minute and nearly left in tears the next. Considering how much they recycle from the original - why drop one of the best things?

Especially when, you know, it's not that funny either. It's got a few laughs for sure, but rarely anything laugh out loud-worthy (one of the few exceptions: using Madison the idiot to pitch an idea we actually do have in our world - but not in theirs since things stopped in 2009 - summing up how fairly stupid it is when you think about it), and when they recycle things that were so great in the first film - like a driving montage where the seating arrangements keep changing - it just reminded me how much fresher the first one felt. Things truly reach their nadir with the arrival of Luke Wilson and Thomas Middleditch as a pair who act/talk just like Tallahasee and Columbus (Middleditch's character has "Commandments" instead of "rules", and we watch the two compare their minor differences for what seems like an eternity), leaving me actively annoyed instead of merely kind of bored.

As for the zombie action, it's fine. There's a pretty great one take sequence where our heroes fight off a pair of the new "T-800" zombies (so-named because they're just as hard to kill), and the finale, while brief, has some solid crowd-pleasing moments as a Monster Truck is used to wipe out an entire swarm. But apart from one brief chunk of the climax, no one ever seems in any real danger - including the random hippies who stupidly decided to melt all of their weapons. There's like two dozen of them, most of whom never even speak, so it baffles me they couldn't at least heighten the tension by letting the countless zombies actually get a few of them, especially when there's not even a "we don't need weapons after all" point to be made, as a (smuggled in) gun ends up saving the day anyway.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not expecting a grim drama like Walking Dead or Day of the Dead, but the first film managed to keep things light while reminding us on occasion of the real tragedy and danger at play - Double Tap just focuses on the laughs, and half of them either don't land or are just recycled from the first one. It's amusing enough, but after ten years I can't help but feel disappointed that they didn't come up with any new ideas of note - perhaps the long delay had them wanting to play it safe? God knows there are enough people out there who fear change, so it's possible that they are the target demo here, getting more of the same and only the bare minimum of new material so that it doesn't qualify as a remake. They'll love it, I'm sure, but me, the best I can say is that it more or less held my attention and gave me a few laughs, but I'd be hard pressed to remember much about it by this time next week (I've already forgotten Middleditch's name, in fact). It's nice to spend some time with these folks again, but that can only go so far - eventually there has to be a solid reason for their return, and I never found one here.

What say you?


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