More Rules, Less Drool – Zombieland: Double Tap

It’s a little odd to wait so many years between an original film and its sequel, but every once in a while it happens, and oftentimes with positive results. Take for example last year’s hit and Oscar nominee Incredibles 2. The sequel to Brad Bird’s beloved family tale set against the backdrop of superhero culture was 14 years in the making, and while it wasn’t perfect, it certainly lived up to the hype, improving the animation and expanding the characters in ways that certainly felt organic, including shifting lead responsibilities from Bob Parr to Helen.

The same can be said about this week’s long-in-coming second chapter, Zombieland: Double Tap. It’s been 10 years since the first Zombieland, a surprisingly hilarious and heartfelt riff on the glut of movies about the undead. Is the sequel better than the original? Not really. But that doesn’t mean it’s not just as fun. We reunite with the strong quartet of survivors from the last movie and add some new faces to the crowd. And just like its predecessor, this film still has the ability to surprise, mostly in how well it makes the most annoying characters somehow still worth rooting for.

A decade after the Zombie Apocalypse, Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), Wichita (Emma Stone), and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) have survived and thrived, setting up their homestead in the White House. Having overcome much of their differences and insecurities in the last film, Wichita and Columbus have settled into something resembling a normal couple, while Tallahassee has taken on a more fatherly role to Little Rock. It’s not exactly what you’d call a stable home life, what with zombie hordes still marauding everywhere, but at least they’re secure, and they’re abiding by one of the more important rules, “Enjoy the Little Things.”

On an impromptu Christmas morning (they celebrate whenever they feel like it), Tallahassee gives Little Rock a vintage gun – originally given to Richard Nixon by Elvis Presley – which she accepts but scoffs at. At the same time, Columbus proposes to Wichita via the Hope Diamond. The girls fall back into their old patterns and run off, leaving a poorly-worded note behind (Wichita concedes she’s bad at notes). This, of course, sends the men back into their old patterns. Tallahassee yearns to return to the open road, free of attachments, while Columbus is lonely and morose.

That is, of course, until the pair go to a run down mall to look for supplies, and come across Madison (Zoey Deutch), who has somehow been keeping herself alive by hiding in the refrigerator at a frozen yogurt stand. She’s about the most stereotypical dumb blonde this side of Clueless, but as she’s had no human contact in years, she immediately mounts Columbus the moment they bring her home. As would be expected, Wichita returns to “pick up supplies and ammo” moments later, leading to the core dramatic conflict of the movie – i.e. how much responsibility Columbus bears for getting some rebound sex after a month apart, how much blame Wichita gets for leaving in the first place, and the “Really? Her?!?!” reactions to everything stupid that Madison does.

Meanwhile, Little Rock, mildly intrigued from Tallahassee’s obsession with Elvis, decides to drive to Graceland, leaving Wichita behind and taking the first boy she sees along with her. This new companion is named Berkeley (Avan Jogia), and is the most stereotypical hippie college douchebag bro this side of the guy who got his guitar smashed by John Belushi in Animal House. He’s a complete poser, with one of the most punchable faces imaginable, but he’s also the first boy Little Rock has met that’s her own age, which makes him instant boyfriend material.

Both of these new characters are annoying in the extreme, but in a weird way, I also enjoyed them. For one, it’s good to know that not every survivor did so because they came out guns-a-blazin’ (Berkeley is a pacifist, which hilariously sets Tallahassee off, while Madison only protects herself with pepper spray). For another, their introductions, while forced, do somewhat come out of need. Columbus needs someone like Madison to make him appreciate the true bond he has with Wichita, even if there are a LOT of jokes – god and bad – at Madison’s expense. Similarly, Little Rock did need to meet new people, people she could relate to, if nothing else than to let her see her adopted family as something to come home to. Her social development was cut severely short by the onset of the zombie apocalypse, and it’s crucial for her to see that there is a life outside the three people with whom she’s spent the last decade. It also helps that both new actors play their parts to the absolute hilt, milking every easy joke for all they’re worth.

The main group (plus Madison) track Little Rock as far as Tennessee, where they’re forced to stop for rest at an Elvis-themed motel. There, Tallahassee meets his long-awaited love interest, Nevada, played by Rosario Dawson, who is just all kinds of kick ass. He and Columbus also get to meet the mirror universe versions of themselves in the forms of Albuquerque (Luke Wilson) and Flagstaff (Thomas Middleditch), who himself has a list of “Commandments” to mimic Columbus’ “Rules.”

Despite going back to the well of the previous film numerous times (they even find a way to bring back Bill Murray despite his fate in the last installment), Double Tap does find ways to make the old tricks new again. For example, in the 10 years since the Apocalypse, the zombies have evolved into distinct classes: Homers (after Homer Simpson, as in dumb and lazy), Hawkings (after Stephen, they can adapt and solve problems), Ninjas (human jumps scares), and T-800s (after the original Terminator, hardened super-zombies who keep coming no matter what you throw at them). Each of these types gets some good screen time and some decent laughs, particularly the Homers, for obvious reasons.

I guess for me the overall drawback is that while this movie is certainly as fun as the last one, there isn’t enough of what really made the last movie so fun. Instead of high-octane action sequences, we’re forced to rely more on comedy from the character dynamics. For the most part, the jokes land, but there are some obvious missed opportunities. For example, given Tallahassee’s motives in the last movie, and given his love for “The King,” how do we not go on another quest for Twinkies? It would be right in line with the character’s logic. I’m all for strong character development, but the last movie had a great balance between character, plot, and jokes. This time around, plot suffers for the sake of the other two, which sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t.

Similarly, gone is the climactic battle/rescue of the last movie, with everyone going on a zombie-killing rampage, replaced with one giant stunt necessitated by a one-note joke about the hippie commune where the pursuit of Little Rock ends, so pacifist that everyone’s weapons are confiscated and melted down before they can enter. One would think that given its predecessor’s success that the budget for action sequences would be upped to an insane degree, but really, apart from about two sequences that – while well-choreographed – are actually just long setups for a running gag about how much Tallahassee hates minivans, there really isn’t that much action in this zombie action shoot-em-up comedy. Honestly, there really aren’t that many zombies either, despite the new classifications.

Still, this is a fun, and funny movie, a worthy successor. And if nothing else, it’s amazing to think that in a film and franchise as silly as this one, the core four actors have a combined eight Oscar nominations – with one win for Emma Stone.

Grade: B-

Join the conversation in the comments below! What film should I review next? What movie would you like to see a sequel for after a number of years? Is it weird to recognize that Abigail Breslin is insanely hot now, given her fairly recent past as a child actor? Let me know!

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