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Return of the zom-com – ‘Zombieland: Double Tap’

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The pop culture zeitgeist is in constant flux. What’s popular and exciting changes with ever-increasing rapidity; today’s hot commodity is tomorrow’s passé cliché.

Ten years ago, zombies were hot. There were all manner of properties devoted to the horror subgenre; comic books and movies, TV shows and novels – the works. Into that world was delivered “Zombieland,” a zom-com with a dynamite cast that embraced the inherent humor while also leaning into the more visceral and graphic aspects of zombie tales. Basically, it was funny and gross and a hell of a good time. It was also a significant financial success, more than quadrupling its budget at the box office. So it stands to reason that the powers that be would want a sequel.

Only it took a little longer than anticipated.

Now, a full decade later, we’re finally getting that sequel. Titled “Zombieland: Double Tap,” this movie lands in a much different pop culture landscape than its predecessor. It’s tough to argue against a degree of zombie fatigue when it comes to our entertainment; the saturation point was passed long ago.

So why now? Tough to say. What we can say, however, is that this new movie, while unable to scale the splattered, satiric heights of the original, is actually a worthwhile follow-up to what was a very successful film. This new installment brings everybody back, both in front of the camera and behind it, and finds a way to revisit its world that is fresh and interesting.

The central quartet of the first film is back, still surviving a decade after the zombie outbreak. Their manufactured family unit is starting to show some signs of strain, however – even after moving into the White House and making it their more-or-less permanent home.

Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg, “The Art of Self-Defense”) and Wichita (Emma Stone, TV’s “Maniac”) have settled into something resembling domesticity, their relationship in a repetitive rut that doesn’t necessarily bother them both equally. Meanwhile, Little Rock (Abigail Breslin, “Freak Show”) is starting to yearn for something more, to leave the nest and find people her own age … much to the chagrin of Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson, “The Highwaymen”), who has fallen into the role of father figure, though he doesn’t always wear it particularly well.

All of this takes place against a backdrop of a zombie-infested world; the four have settled into an ease with regards to their brain-eating foes. They can handle zombies. The emotional ramifications of interpersonal relationships? Not as much.

Little Rock and Wichita decide to take their leave, both hoping to remove themselves from the feelings of suffocation brought on by their male compatriots. Left with nothing but a note, Columbus mopes along for a month before stumbling across fellow survivor Madison (Zoey Deutch, “Set It Up”) in a mall. He finds comfort in her arms – until Wichita comes back.

Turns out that Little Rock ditched her to join up with Berkeley (Avan Jogia, “Shaft”), a guitar-strumming hippie who wants to take her with him to Babylon, a pacifist young person utopia. Tensions are running high, with love triangle bickering and worry about Little Rock’s safety.

Only it turns out that the zombies are evolving as well, with a new breed of stronger, faster, smarter zombies springing up. It’s going to take a lot more than the usual efforts to protect themselves from these new creatures … and the stakes are higher than ever before.

“Zombieland: Double Tap” is a pretty good time at the movies. It has some solid sight gags – mostly built around gruesome zombie killing – and plenty of jokes. The aesthetic is smartly done and the zombie stuff alternates between horror and hilarity with spot-on deftness. It doesn’t benefit from the element of surprise like its predecessor did – a lot of what made the original work so well was how unexpected it was – but it still works, thanks to leaning into its basic premise. No one’s going to make the case that this is a NECESSARY movie, but it’s undeniably a fun one.

A lot of that fun comes from the “getting the band back together” vibe that permeates the proceedings. The team that made the original movie so good is back at it. Director Ruben Fleischer made his feature debut with the first film; he’s spent the decade since working prolifically on screens both large and small. And original screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick are joined by Dave Callaham. That consistency results in a retention of style and tone that is a major key to the success of this new installment.

And of course, the cast. There’s some serious star power at work here; that power is amplified by the fact that these people seem to genuinely enjoy both the project and each other. Eisenberg does nebbishy beta as well as anybody; his Columbus is neurotic and emotionally fragile while also being a first-rate survivor. Stone gives Wichita a mean-girl edge that is fun to watch. Harrelson’s gleeful mania as Tallahassee is a highlight, though he finds times to flash us the feelings beneath his nigh-sociopathic exterior. Breslin endows Little Rock with a world-weariness that blends with a desire to grow up too fast. And the chemistry amongst them is just magnificent.

The supporting cast is great as well. Deutch and Jogia have characters that are a little one note, yet still engaging. There’s some fantastic work done by Rosario Dawson, Luke Wilson and Thomas Middleditch (though I won’t say more because of spoilers). Oh, and stick around for some absolutely top-notch Bill Murray at the end of the film.

It’s strange that we’re getting “Zombieland: Double Tap” so long after the first film. And yet, it still works. It doesn’t quite reach the level of its predecessor, but it is plenty fun and engaging. As far as decade-late sequels go, it’s pretty damned good.

[4 out of 5]

Last modified on Tuesday, 22 October 2019 09:28

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