Monday , 6 February 2023

Zombieland: Double Tap is Twice as Fun – review

Back for seconds, after all this time.

Tallahassee, Columbus, Wichita, Little Rock – all great American cities that most people have heard about, but probably haven’t set as their top vacation destinations. Yet they each have their own charms and have found their distinct niche in the world. Same could be said of the four characters who go by those cities’ monikers in the post-apocalyptic world of Zombieland. At first glance, maybe they aren’t the most likely survivors of a nightmarish landscape overrun by the flesh-eating living dead, but they have each used what skills they have, a pesky resilience and perhaps a little, OK, a lot of luck, to get this far. Now, ten years after we first met these quirky characters, they’ve come to rely greatly on each other, though none of them would likely admit it, in the long-awaited sequel, Zombieland: Double Tap.

The apparent leader of the group, at least to himself, is Tallahassee, played with lovable irascibility by Woody Harrelson. Killing zombies is apparently what he was born to do, and he’s assimilated into this world just fine, preferring to survive on his own, but accepting the company he currently keeps. That includes his sidekick, Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), a paranoid hypochondriac, and probably in high school voted least likely to survive a zombie apocalypse, yet, thanks to a list of rules he lives by, has managed to avoid becoming a meal to the brain-eating, gut-munching ghouls. Then there’s sisters, Wichita and Little Rock, portrayed by Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin. As we saw in the first film, their allegiance is to each other, and anyone else is just a means to an end. But they too have seemingly settled into their current domestic situation with the four of them taking residence in the long-abandoned White House. However, when Little Rock becomes restless and heads off in search of people closer to her own age, it sets the stage for new perils, people and places.

Rule #7 – Travel Light

The chief new addition is the pink-clad, luggage-toting Madison (Zoey Deutch). By her own account, she’s like, really good at surviving, but as Tallahassee explains, it’s because zombies eat brains and she doesn’t have any. Her appearance leads to an awkward love triangle between her, Columbus and Wichita. (Is that not the coolest name for a woman, Wichita?) Speaking of cool women, the gang also come across one Nevada, where exactly in Nevada, well, that’s for her to know. Played by Rosario Dawson, she’s a no-nonsense, Elvis-loving, kick-ass zombie killer and a perfect match-up for Tallahassee. Other new additions include peace-lovin’ hippie, Berkeley (Avan Jogia), who prefers hugs to guns, and Albuquerque (Luke Wilson) and his sidekick, Flagstaff (Thomas Middleditch) who both seem oddly familiar.

Time to nut up or shut up…..again.

When the original Zombieland opened in October of 2009, zombies weren’t quite yet all the rage. Sure, we had the actual rage-infected of 28 Days Later in 2002. The Resident Evil franchise, based on the successful videogame, was also getting underway that same year. Shaun of the Dead, in 2004, showed that zombies could be taken lightly even in the midst of all the blood and gore. And the remake of the film from the godfather of it all, George A. Romero’s classic Dawn of the Dead, in 2004, gave us the running dead, which made them even more dangerous. Dawn was a sizable hit, really the first pure zombie film to break beyond the cult status of previous ones in the genre. So when Zombieland hit in ’09, audiences seemed primed and ready.  What made Zombieland so special was the way it combined hard R-rated violence and gore with a gutful of laughs, a talented, A-list cast and a number of surprises, one in particular involving Bill Murray. The film, written by Rhett Weese and Paul Wernick, and directed by Ruben Fleischer, was a fresh and innovative take on the zombie film, using slow-motion, freeze frames and a clever use of graphics to display Columbus’ various Rules for Surviving a Zombie Apocalypse. It became the highest grossing zombie movie of all-time, passing the Dawn remake, and lasting until 2013’s massive hit, World War Z. Of course, a year after Zombieland, in 2010, The Walking Dead hit our television screens and changed the game forever.

Rule #8 – Get a Kick Ass Partner

Everything, and everyone that made the first Zombieland so successful is back in play in Zombieland: Double Tap. (The term, double tap, by the way, in case you forget, refers to Rule #2 – never assume the undead is really dead until you give it one more clear shot to the head.) The same director, writers, with the addition of Dave Callaham, and, thankfully, the entire main cast have returned, which is pretty impressive, considering that Harrelson, Stone, Eisenberg and Breslin are all Academy Award nominees, with Stone winning Best Actress for La La Land in 2017. They display a nice chemistry, even when at odds with each other, which is quite often. As their characters have settled into somewhat of a comfort zone, though, it was a wise decision to add some new players to the mix and they each do their part to liven things up amongst the world of the dead. Deutch brings plenty of cute, silly, ditzy charm to her role of Madison, a stark contrast to the no-nonsense, strong-willed Wichita and Little Rock. And Dawson displays the natural charisma and sensuality she brings to pretty much anything she appears in.

A standout feature of the first film were those rules that Columbus came up with that managed to keep him alive in the world of the dead, and the way they creatively depicted them onto the screen. They were always a highlight, but they seemed to peter out in the first film. Fortunately, we get a few new ones in Double Tap, and they’re sprinkled throughout the film from beginning to end. That terrific opening credits scene in the original, set to Metallica’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls”, has an equally worthy counterpart in this film as well, accompanied by another classic Metallica tune, complete with the credit words knocked all over the screen as the zombies are goriously killed one after another. Columbus’ narration also returns to let us in on what’s been happening over the past ten years. There are also a number of fun references to other living dead works, from Dawn of the Dead to The Walking Dead, as well as the introduction of a new faster, stronger “T-800” zombie.

So, while there is plenty of new ground broken here, there’s also the return of everything that made the first film so enjoyable. It basically comes down to, if you liked the first Zombieland, you’ll most likely like and even love Double-Tap. It’s the rare sequel (Aliens, Terminator 2) that manages to not only live up to its predecessor but even surpass it in many ways. It is a thoroughly and enormously entertaining film from the first frame, where the Sony/Columbia torch-bearing woman gets into the act, to the last, and we do mean last, as there is a terrific post-credits scene, and we mean after ALL the credits, that you don’t want to miss. So, run, don’t walk like the zombies of yesteryear, and catch up to Zombieland: Double Tap at a theater near you!

— review by Brian de Castro