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Zombieland: Double Tap Movie Review

Zombieland: Double Tap (2019) movie poster Zombieland: Double Tap

Theatrical Release: October 18, 2019 / Running Time: 99 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Ruben Fleischer / Writers: Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick, David Callaham

Cast: Woody Harrelson (Tallahassee), Jesse Eisenberg (Columbus), Emma Stone (Wichita), Abigail Breslin (Little Rock), Zoey Deutch (Madison), Avan Jogia (Berkeley), Rosario Dawson (Nevada), Luke Wilson (Albuquerque), Thomas Middleditch (Flagstaff), Bill Murray (Himself)


Joker director Todd Phillips recently drew the wrath of many online crusaders by suggesting that so-called cancel culture has changed comedy. If you took issue with that observation, chances are you were either trying to get clicks for your article on the back of the fall's most talked-about film or you were demonstrating some of the very outrage and offense that Phillips credits for driving him away from comedy. Regardless of how you feel about Joker, to scoff at Phillips' comments as a product of white male privilege is to miss the truth in what he said. Forget for a moment the touchy concepts of being politically correct and woke. Comedic tastes change quickly. Phillips' The Hangover became one of the highest-grossing comedies of all time ten years ago and already we find in it some depictions that can be classified as problematic.
Released ten years later or ten years earlier, it seems unlikely the film would have flourished and become a lucrative trilogy as it did. Typically, the window for sequels in comedy closes quickly. Anchorman 2 disappointed, Zoolander 2 bombed, Dumb and Dumber To is reviled.

Those sequels trailed their predecessors by nine, fifteen, and twenty years respectively. Zombieland: Double Tap arrives tonight, ten years and a couple of weeks after the original film. The odds do not seem to be in its favor and things don't start too promisingly, with our nerdy protagonist Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) breaking the fourth wall in his voiceover narration to thank us for returning, acknowledging we have many choices in "zombie entertainment."

Though it came five years after Dawn of the Dead and Shaun of the Dead seemed to revive interest in the reanimated undead, Zombieland was slightly ahead of the curve in that it hit theaters a full year before "The Walking Dead" began airing on AMC. That series is still running and, judging from the number of articles about it I choose not to read, still popular. Zombies haven't been relegated to the small screen, either, with movies like Warm Bodies, World War Z, Overlord, Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and even Jim Jarmusch's The Dead Don't Die all experiencing wide theatrical release.

The first Zombieland didn't just beat all of those to the punch, it simply beat them as entertainment. It was an unusually witty and appealing mainstream studio comedy, conceived as a television series and subsequently unsuccessfully adapted into one. Four flavorful characters played to perfection by actors who either already or subsequently were nominated for Academy Awards took the script by Rhett Reese (Cruel Intentions 3) and Paul Wernick and elevated it to first-rate cinema.

The Zombieland gang -- Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), Little Rock (Abigail Breslin), and Wichita (Emma Stone) -- returns in full, with little evidence that ten years have passed.

Those four principal cast members -- Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone, and Abigail Breslin -- went on to too many successful works to mention, but The Social Network, the Hunger Games franchise, La La Land, The Favourite, and Now You See Me are a staggering sample. Director Ruben Fleischer did not fare as well, following his dynamite debut with the coolly-received 30 Minutes or Less and Gangster Squad, before rebounding only commercially in last fall's Venom.

Fleischer, Reese & Wernick, and the four esteemed leads are finally all back here and gladly, they have managed to recreate a good amount of the magic of their first collaboration in this tenth anniversary reunion.

Columbus explains that zombies have evolved and devolved into a trio of classes -- the Homer, the Hawking, the T-800 -- based on their intelligence (or lack thereof) and vincibility. Surprisingly, not much else has changed in the ten years since we last saw these four strangers named after their hometowns form a family of sorts amidst zombie apocalypse. Columbus continues to live by his 73 amusing rules, one of which lends this sequel its subtitle and many others which are recalled, again, in a visually creative fashion. He and Wichita (Stone) have remained a somewhat unlikely couple and enjoy a surprising degree of comfort in the group's new home, the White House. You might fear that locale will be tapped for some political comedy, but gladly this universe has not restored law or order, so our survivors simply keep on surviving by teamwork and experience.

Double Tap throws a lot of ideas our way. Some of them work. Others -- like the father-daughter-like dynamic of Tallahassee (Harrelson) and Little Rock (Breslin) -- are a bit shakier. Whereas last time, the group's outside world interactions were limited to zombies and, in a cameo for the ages, Bill Murray, this time they encounter new survivors with surprising frequency. First, after Columbus' proposal to Wichita (with the Hope Diamond, no less, one of various Washington, DC-based historical artifacts mined for laughs) drives her away, he connects with Madison (Zoey Deutch), an annoying yet attractive blonde who has been staying safe in a mall freezer. An annoying character is hard to pull off and Deutch comes here following a string of duds. Surprisingly, though, both the twentysomething actress and the screenwriters, which this time out include David Callaham (The Expendables, Wonder Woman 1984), keep Madison not just tolerable but strangely endearing, even as she is the dim-witted butt of the others' jokes.

Less endearing is Berkeley (Avan Jogia), the hippie pacifist that Little Rock runs off with, to Tallahassee's horror. While he's out there passing off Bob Dylan songs as his own on their way to Graceland, the other three make a pilgrimage to Elvis' Memphis mansion, hoping to rescue both her and the prized vehicle of Tallahassee that they drove off in.

Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson) seems to have met his match in a Graceland resident calling herself Nevada (Rosario Dawson).

Many sequels fail narratively as they try to master the difficult task of sticking to the already proven playbook without repeating it beat for beat. Fortunately, Reese & Wernick (who wrote both Deadpool movies), and Callaham don't seem all that preoccupied with either adhering or departing from the first film's structure. They all just seem genuinely invested in these fun characters and letting them butt heads and crack wise. A pair of characters (played by Luke Wilson and Thomas Middleditch) make for amusing dopplegangers of Tallahassee and Columbus,
though they're gone not long after they're introduced. Sticking around a little longer is Nevada (Rosario Dawson), Graceland's lone permanent resident, a Cool Girl who seems like a perfectly tailored and sorta age-appropriate love interest for Tallahassee.

The untidy way these subplots and supporting characters come and go is probably nothing an aspiring screenwriter should emulate. But Double Tap is undeniably fun nonetheless.

This is the rare lapsed sequel which avoids feeling desperate and untimely. It helps that the actors have all remained productive and aged spectacularly. As the yung'un of the bunch, Breslin has obviously changed the most dramatically, but even she has avoided the awkward adult phase that awaits and stifles many a child actor. After what seems like a full lifetime of work (he joined the cast of "Cheers" thirty-four years ago this fall), Harrelson can only now be called "Old Guy" somewhat jokingly. In his late 50s, his comic instincts are still sharp, even when he's not given the best of material (and his Elvis passion and fatherly rage are not the best). Eisenberg and Stone, who have gravitated to indie and prestige works, prove to be good sports by wholeheartedly reprising these characters from their younger, hungrier days. Nobody misses a beat and even when the comedy isn't particularly gut-busting, the personalities and camaraderie still draw smiles and chuckles out of you.

One thing fans of the original film had to wonder about was whether Bill Murray would return as a zombie version of himself. He doesn't, because what fun would that be? Instead, midway into the end credits, we get a scene that makes almost no sense at all, but stands as a loving showcase of someone accurately described as the greatest comedian of our generation. And if you are as entertained by Murray as I have been these past thirty years, you will want to wait until the very end of the end credits for a brief but funny tag. (Despite reports, fellow Ghostbuster Dan Aykroyd is nowhere to be found in either the epilogue or the body of this film.)

No returning cast member stands to gain all that much from Zombieland: Double Tap. Breslin's career has predictably stalled, so she might get a boost, and Eisenberg isn't exactly the leading man he briefly was. But all four leads are clearly talented and likable, a fact they remind you of here in this diverting follow-up. The only things at stake with a slow-to-arrive sequel like this are if the original film's legacy can remain untarnished (it can) and no one loses their dignity in going back to this well (they don't). You'd like to see the spirited fun of this production get rewarded with some sturdy box office numbers and that seems possible, even opening across from a big budget Disney tentpole (Maleficent: Mistress of Evil) with Joker still poised to dominate the month. But it's not like we need another sequel here or for other 10-year-old comedy hits to be revisited. Let us just appreciate the fact that Double Tap is about as graceful and enjoyable as it can be.

Related Reviews:
Directed by Ruben Fleischer: 30 Minutes or Less Gangster Squad Venom
Now in Theaters: Joker Gemini Man Maleficent: Mistress of Evil Abominable It: Chapter 2
Warm Bodies The Walking Dead: Season One Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse The Dead Don't Die
Now You See Me Now You See Me 2 The End of the Tour The Art of Self Defense The Hunger Games: 4-Movie Collection

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Reviewed October 17, 2019.

Text copyright 2019 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2019 Sony, Columbia Pictures, 2.0 Entertainment, and Pariah Productions.
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