Let me start at the end: do NOT leave Zombieland: Double Tap without watching its mid-credit sequence. Along with a scene featuring Luke Wilson and Thomas Middleditch, this final bit comes closest to the spirit of the 2009 original. It’s also the reason I affixed 3 stars, instead of 2.5, to this review.
If I’d made such a list, Zombieland would’ve been one of my top 50 films of the 2000s. Right off the bat, it sets a splendid gory/funny tone in its first scene: accompanied by Jesse Eisenberg’s deadpan voiceover, a zombie gazing into the side mirror of an overturned Presidential limo picks flesh out of his teeth.
From there, it only gets better. Its quartet of leads are alchemical perfection. Their characters could’ve been clichés – Woody Harrelson’s redneck, Eisenberg’s bundle of obsessive-compulsive neuroses, Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin’s grifter sisters – but they have heart and heft. And the comedy comes off effortlessly, whether physical (Harrelson’s creative kill strategies) or verbal (Eisenberg’s list of survival rules).
Double Tap manages to bring back its original cast, though in the intervening decade, Emma Stone has moved from obscurity to Oscar-winning stardom, and Eisenberg has landed serious roles like Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network. Ruben Fleischer is also back as director, as are the original writers (Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick), though a third scribe (Dave Callaham) was added.
So, I don’t know what caused it, but Double Tap lacks the easy humor, deft characterizations, and plausible performances of the first film. Maybe it’s a simple case of sequelitis. Maybe its actors aren’t as young and hungry. Maybe it’s the addition of a third writer, since Callaham’s résumé mostly consists of expendable movies like, well, The Expendables. (Perhaps it’s not a coincidence that the theme of characters as third wheels crops up repeatedly here.)Double Tap in many ways replicates Zombieland’s formula, to the point of starting in D.C. and setting its slo-mo opening credits to kickass heavy metal. The survival rules of Columbus (Eisenberg) still pop up onscreen. The sisters, Wichita (Stone) and Little Rock (Breslin), maintain a tendency to abandon the men when feeling put upon. And the film climaxes with a rescue attempt and zombie showdown.
Double Tap begins with our quartet taking up residence in the White House. Columbus and Wichita are now a couple, sleeping together in the Lincoln Bedroom and covering the eyes on Honest Abe’s portrait when they do the deed.
Ten years together are starting to grate, however. Wichita is itching for something different, and Little Rock chafes at the overbearing paternalism of Tallahassee (Harrelson).
A decade has wrought other changes, too. The zombies have evolved into distinct types: among them, the dopey Homer, wily Hawking, and turbocharged T-800. And our foursome crosses paths with other survivors, including the too-dumb-to-be-believed Madison (Zoey Deutch) and so-New-Agey-you-can-smell-the-patchouli Berkeley (Avan Jogia). Fortunately, later survivors played by Wilson, Middleditch, and Rosario Dawson are better drawn.
These newcomers add to the tension felt by our group. Madison creates an awkward romantic triangle with Wichita and Columbus, while Little Rock bolts with Berkeley, leading to the search-and-rescue that makes up the meat of the film.
The comedy driving Double Tap alternates between forced and genuine, but all’s well that ends well. The climax is smartly executed, as is the aforementioned credit sequence.
Like the original, this film has a beating heart and a sweetness at its center. For all its laughs and gory action, Zombieland was ultimately about our need for community (without which, you might as well be undead). Double Tap says that no matter where you are – whether the post-apocalypse White House or a ramshackle Graceland – home is where the people you love happen to be.