Well, it took a decade but we’re finally back with the geographically-named heroes of Zombieland, who are finding that, even with the world overrun by slavering hordes of the living dead, people are still gonna have the same emotional and relationship problems that they’ve always had.
You’d think that being able to hang your hat in the now-abandoned White House would take some of the sting out of existential angst, but tough gal Wichita (Emma Stone) still gets itchy feet when well-meaning nerd Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) tries to put a ring on it, hitting the road with now-grown Little Rock (Abigail Breslin), who wants the chance to meet some boys her own age who aren’t shambling corpses. Redneck patriarch Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson) is also feeling a mite lonely, but subsumes his solitude in gruff, many style, hitting the road to reunite with his family of choice, with Columbus in tow. And off we go.
Make no mistake, there are very few surprises to be found in Zombieland: Double Tap, a sequel very much from the “more of the same but louder” school of franchise building. Which means if you liked the 2009 original well enough, you’ll probably have a good time here. If you didn’t, you won’t, but also if you think the first flick was some kind of cinematic landmark that deserves a “worthy” sequel, you’re barking up the wrong tree. Double Tap isn’t interested in expanding the mythos, exploring new themes, or doing anything narratively adventurous; it’s concerned with zombie kills, action thrills, and having Harrelson rip verbal strips off of Eisenberg at an impressive tempo. All those boxes are resolutely checked.
Fresh blood is injected in the form of Rosario Dawson’s Elvis-loving bartender, Nevada, who serves as a love interest for Harrelson’s lonesome tough guy, and Zoey Deutch as Madison, a dumb blonde valley girl who comes between Columbus and Wichita. Deutch is the film’s secret weapon, taking what could have been an insufferable stereotype and heisting every single scene she’s in through sheer comedic craft. Her delivery, timing, and blunt force fearlessness are simply devastating – when you’ve got a relative ingenue wrenching attention away from veterans like Harrelson and company at every turn and making it look easy, you know you’re witnessing real talent at work.
Things come to a climax with a zombie siege at New Age hipster haven Babylon, a gated love-in that not only bans all firearms, but melts down the weapons seized from new arrivals, much to the consternation of gun-lovin’ Tallahassee, but it’s his easygoing, unexamined, cigars ‘n’ liquor libertarianism that enables him to marshal the inhabitants into some kind of effective fighting force when the chips are down, so the film’s politics are more or less what you’d expect, although there’s an interesting wrinkle added in the form of collective action rather than individual heroism ultimately saving the day. That subtext is really only there if you want it to be, though – the film doesn’t make a big song and dance about it, but it’s a fun arrow to have in your quiver ready for your next art and politics internet catfight.
At the end of the day, Double Tap is perfunctory good fun, a film whose sole aim is give us some familiar (sometimes too familiar – one gag is lifted wholesale from Shaun of the Dead) laughs and let us hang out with some cool actors doing cool things. It’s an eminently disposable pop artifact but sometimes that’s just what you need.