What’s with all of the decades-late sequels these days? Mad Max: Fury Road, Blade Runner 2049, Mary Poppins Returns… the list goes on and on. But as long as they’re critical and financial successes, more will be made. One of the latest is Zombieland: Double Tap, a sequel to the hit horror-comedy Zombieland from 2009. And while it doesn’t do much that the first one didn’t, this follow-up is a rollicking riff with enough laughs and character to stand as a hearty, albeit tardy, sequel.
One of its coups is that all four stars of the original return, including Oscar-winner Emma Stone. She gives an intense and fully-committed performance here, as do the other three leads: Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, and Abigail Breslin. The merry band of marauders they played before, trying to stay alive in a world overrun by zombies, have now become so good at running and gunning they’ve become bored. They need to get some of their mojos back now that zombies aren’t all that much of an issue for them.
The opening set-piece finds them mowing down a horde of the running dead on the way to their new home – an abandoned White House. There are no longer any countries, armed forces, or any semblance of order. It’s just those who are zombies and their adversaries struggling to keep from joining them. (You’ll remember that it was Mad Cow Disease that ran rampant, turning the world’s populace into Mad People Disease in the 2009 original.)
Somehow the four have endless rounds of ammunition, let alone access to all kinds of water and food, but the film is less interested in explaining this craven new world. Instead, it just wants to have fun. And fun it has for all.
Good ol’ boy Tallahassee (Harrelson) is still a blustery, macho cowboy. Columbus (Eisenberg), our narrator in the first film, is still his nebbish lieutenant. Wichita (Stone), the romantic interest in the first one is now in an all-but-married relationship with Columbus. And Little Rock (Breslin) isn’t so little anymore. She’s now 19 and itching for independence. Wichita still has flight tendencies too, and readily runs off with her sister, abandoning the two men, just after Columbus proposed to her.
It may be fun roaming around the White House, using a painting of President Taft as wrapping paper for an early Christmas celebration, but Tallahassee and Columbus are going stir-crazy too. They make frequent sojourns outside their new home, visiting the mall to grab supplies and shoot down walkers in their way. Columbus, moping since Wichita’s exit, likes to visit the candle shop to ingest smells that don’t wreak of decay and rotting flesh. And there, he meets a comely newcomer who will quickly help him get over being dumped.
Madison (Zoey Deutch) is a teenager clad in a pink velvet tracksuit who has been living in the mall. Her introduction is one of the cheekier gags in the sequel. Her name is genuinely Madison, even though it plays off of the trope of characters using the moniker of their hometowns. And her being a permanent fixture at the mall is a hoarily old, but still funny commentary on teendom.
Madison dumber than a box of hammers, but she’s sweet and wants to jump Columbus’ bones, so they quickly become a couple. Deutch makes the most of the role, using her expert comic timing to make her bits land even if they’re more than a bit obvious a majority of the time. Of course, she packs too much for the road and is oblivious to most of everyone’s putdowns. She’s both guileless and clueless. (She could be Elle Woods’ younger sister (or cousin) from Legally Blonde.)
Things get dicey when Wichita returns, pretending her motivation is to stock up on ammo when in actuality, she misses Columbus. She’s not happy that her ex has moved on in less than a month, and as Stone proved in The Favourite, she’s stellar at tossing out bitter quips tinged by real hurt. Eisenberg plays comic bafflement better than just about anyone, here trying to manage his dueling love interests, while Harrelson tosses about pointed, snide putdowns like a redneck version of Groucho Marx or Bill Murray. (More on Mr. Murray later.)
The plot really gets going when Little Rock runs off with an unarmed hipster musician named Berkeley (Avan Jogia), and the others, including Madison, hit the road to find her. They’re worried about Little Rock and her peace-loving love interest surviving against the new, super-powerful zombies running about out there in the wilderness and travel thusly in hot pursuit.
Like its predecessor, this sequel is essentially a road trip movie, and what makes this a worthy trip to the cineplex for audiences are all the fun stops along the way that director Ruben Fleischer and his screenwriting trio of Dave Callaham, Rhett Reese, and Paul Wernick have cooked up.
There’s a great running gag about Tallahassee’s frustrations with their mode of transport as he’s constantly on the lookout for a vehicle than their family minivan. (His previous obsession with Twinkies gets nary a mention this time.) The Florida resident is also determined to visit Graceland as Elvis is one of his heroes, and it’s exactly where Little Rock told Wichita she was headed in her goodbye note.
The tensions in the car amongst the two men and two women make for quick-paced and hilariously bitchy dialogue. Run-ins with new characters, played by Rosario Dawson, Luke Wilson, and Thomas Middleditch, are a stitch too, as is a third act showdown that takes place at a hippie commune.
Despite Tallahassee’s put-downs of the lefty pacifists there, the movie has its cake and eats it too, showing that peaceful solutions can work just as well as creating bullet-ridden carnage.
If one is going to attempt a sequel ten years after the fact, let alone in a genre overrun by zombies, they should all be as easy and breezy as this effort. The four assume their roles and rapport with each other with unforced aplomb. They all look great too, barely aging at all other than Breslin who’s grown into womanhood. And the story adds just enough twists to make this a hoot. The writers wisely avoid anything too heavy as well, resisting any attempts to become political or make too many editorial comments on society.
In fact, the most the screenplay acknowledges the rest of the world is only in brief cameos that show novel ways the foreign citizenry prevails over the zombie infestation in their countries. As in the previous film, director Fleischer cleverly incorporates animated onscreen titles to highlight Columbus’ rules to survive such an apocalypse as well. And the director moves things along briskly, even finding time to revisit Bill Murray in a post-credit sequence. (His cameo in the first one has become something almost legendary.)
In the end, this fun outing even sets up what could be an ongoing franchise. If future entries are as fun as this, their returns will not be diminishing ones. Who knows, maybe they’ll even figure out a way to cross-populate this property with one or two of those other late-returning sequels. Could Mad Max help Tallahassee, et al. annihilate the living dead? Undoubtedly, though he might not like being called Melbourne.
Catch the trailer for Zombieland: Double Take below: