To reference the similarities shared in my review of Pokémon Detective Pikachu, going into the follow-up to 2009’s Zombieland having never seen the original myself is always a unique experience, one which might draw a more honest look at the subject and its ability to stand on its own as a decent film in its own right. I suppose there’s a reason I’ve never set aside the time to take in Zombieland, and in entering into the sequel I thus couldn’t help but approach the event with a fair amount of folded arms and almost complete disinterest in what I was about to see. This, ultimately, may be the best way to take in Zombieland: Double Tap, something I’ll freely acknowledge-the last time this occurred, the movie was Super Troopers, now a personal favorite.
Set ten years after the events of the original, Double Tap follows the mismatched group of Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) as they roam the post-apocalyptic zombie-laden landscape of the United States dispatching any baddies with the greatest of ease while dealing with the requisite amount of inner turmoil central to any good on-screen drama. From the opening scenes at an abandoned White House, where far too many jokes about the priceless presidential artifacts present within the building fly out of characters’ mouths at breakneck speed, to a smattering of action sequences showcasing the team taking down the variety of zombies explained in Eisenberg’s ever-present narration, to later moments at an Elvis-themed hotel and eventual hippie commune, there’s enough of a flow to keep things interesting, even if the cast drifts in the opposite direction more often than not.
There does indeed appear to be some genuine chemistry between the four leads, and with the exception of Breslin all seem mostly committed to their roles-Eisenberg’s recycled Mark Zuckerberg-isms seen in nearly every performance he’s commanded since The Social Network works well here, with his recurring knack for listing his various rules of zombie survival and bouncy Michael Cera-esque quips, while at the same time showing a fine partnership with Harrelson, who not only genuinely seems to enjoy working with Eisenberg following the predecessor and the now-forgotten Now You See Me saga but also continues to play a character we’ve seen time and time again, the badass pseudo-redneck with a wealth of sarcasm & swagger that consistently proves to be effortless for the man. Emma Stone, though decent overall, at times appears disinterested and even somewhat uncommitted on occasion, but nothing compares to Abigail Breslin, who’s probably done better but truly presented herself as someone who’s never acted before. At least Rosario Dawson, in a role as the aforementioned hotel proprietor that something of a reflection of Stone as well as brief scenes with Luke Wilson & Thomas Middleditch as purposeful clones of Tallahassee and Columbus all stick the landing perfectly, and Zoey Deutch as Madison, the dumb blonde stereotype who Columbus meets in a decaying shopping mall, is as over-the-top as it gets-not matter how much you’ll want to feel annoyed by her mere presence, somehow it works beautifully. Unfortunately, for every Deutch there’s a Breslin, and joining this unfortunate counterbalance is Avan Jogia as Berkley, the cookie-cutter Woodstock-ian who’s either trying somewhat to earn his paycheck or doesn’t seem to know what he’s doing at all. While better than Breslin, who’s ironically paired with him throughout much of the film, it isn’t by much.
Luckily, director Ruben Fleischer, himself no stranger to the world of the scattershot with a body of work that includes not only his directorial debut of Zombieland but such blockbusters as last year’s Venom as well as the horrifically bad 2013 attempt Gangster Squad, knows at the very least how to keep a movie looking bright, speedy and with the periodic scene that just plain works splendidly. A one-take zombie battle at the hotel is a textbook example, various shootouts or quick cutaways are appropriately horror-movie disgusting and my nostalgic heart jumped for joy at the sight of Tallahassee & Columbus traveling via Segway past an ancient Waldenbooks early in the film. Though several detours in the progression of the story are abandoned just as quickly as they arrive & some of the VFX is shaky at best, Fleischer clearly possesses a love for his cast, with a filmography that includes Eisenberg and Stone not only returning from the original but also having held their own in, respectively, Fleischer’s 2011 effort 30 Minutes or Less and Gangster Squad. At the end of the day, there’s some genuinely great material here, all the way to the end-and yes, the very end. Believe me, it’s exceptional.
That said, this all brings to the table a fantastic question-how many comedic sequels exist that, at the very least, match the quality seen in the predecessor? It’s a hard question to answer, and without having seen Zombieland is obviously impossible at this juncture for me to tackle. However, I believe an agreement can be made that hardly any funny follow-up throughout cinematic history has been able to completely achieve what the original set out to do, and though I’ll reserve my answer as to whether Double Tap lives up to the ’09 classic until that time when I sit down to finally give it a watch I can still admit to having a fine time nonetheless with this one, a film with enough good to just outweigh the bad with regards to cast & cinematography and a passably hilarious script that keeps the film moving forward. It’s one I can envision holding up as time passes, that rare sequel one needs only to see with minimal expectations at most and a wish to simply see a movie that offers a nice escape for roughly 90 minutes-in this day and age, who could ask for more?
Give it a try. There’s been worse. If nothing else, seeing the same Pontiac Transport my family owned circa 1995 make an appearance in this dystopian chucklefest may have been well worth the price of admission alone.