“Zombieland: Double Tap” Movie Review


     There was a time, particularly in the 1990s, when Steven Seagal would release his latest ass kicking action film where he generally played the same character while demonstrating new and  inventive ways of beating up people who really deserved it.  Some of these, like 1992’s “Under Siege”, even featured major stars such as Tommy Lee Jones and Gary Busey hamming it up in roles where their acting chops were not necessary, but their ability to match the testosterone fueled antics of Seagal were.  And thus, the “guilty pleasure” movie remains in the psyche of every film goer of practically every age.  Sure, we also enjoy and respect the merits of what Martin Scorsese recently dubbed “narrative cinema”, but the occasional departure to something that is plain fun is arguably just as important to those of us who see a lot of movies.  “Zombieland: Double Tap” is one of those films.

     In today’s Hollywood landscape, it would seem to be a minor miracle that ten years after 2009’s “Zombieland” ushered in its own brand of undead mayhem, the film’s four stars, director, and writers would return for a sequel.  Particularly given the fact since then there have been ten seasons (and counting) of “The Walking Dead”, and no shortage of other zombie related films like “World War Z” and “Warm Bodies”.  With so much zombie overload, you’d think the last thing Academy Award nominees like Woody Harrelson (“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”), Jesse Eisenberg (“The Social Network”), and Abigail Breslin (“Little Miss Sunshine”), along with recent Oscar winner Emma Stone (“La La Land”), would consider doing is an off beat horror comedy sequel when typically their handlers would advise them to skip it in favor of something more befitting of career enhancement.

     But the urge to reprise their roles as Tallahassee, Columbus, Little Rock, and Wichita clearly won the battle, leading to “Zombieland: Double Tap”, which sees the quartet of post apocalyptic survivors taking residence in the White House and actually living pretty normal considering the circumstances.  No, this isn’t the depressing onslaught of negativity seen weekly in “The Walking Dead”.  Sure, the humans in this story are still ultimately in it for themselves, but they also realize all they have is each other, and it’s better to have friends you can count on than trying to make a go of it alone.  And the screenplay by “Zombieland vets Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, along with Dave Callaham (“Godzilla”), certainly creates an atmosphere of semi normalcy for our four protagonists, as they celebrate Christmas in the initial scenes and give each other gifts they’ve found throughout the expansive confines of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

     Of course the opening credits sequence features the cast brutally dispatching a zombie hoard on what was the White House lawn, as the sounds of Metallica’s “Master of Puppets” blares through the sound system, so as to warn us a sentimental story should not be expected.  Essentially, director Ruben Fleischer simply builds on the story from the first film, but utilizes the familiar sequel rules that require every action scene to be bigger, gorier, and even more preposterous than anything attempted in the first film.  A mission that is easily accomplished as “Double Tap” brings forth a number of creative and memorable sequences, while allowing the characters to rekindle their relationship with the audiences who helped make these guys stars a decade ago.

     Eisenberg’s Columbus again serves as the narrator, bringing forth his ever growing rule book for survival when zombies are near.  In addition, ten years of experience has led to the identification of different undead subgroups, which help them determine how best to take out a hoard of bloody attackers.  When Columbus lets us know this early on, you have to figure there will be a payoff later, and that’s kind of how this narrative works.  When we are shown Columbus and Stone’s Wichita attempting to create a life together as a serious couple, you know the next scene, she’s likely to disappear and move the story in a different direction.  In this case, Breslin’s Little Rock (Wichita’s sister) leaves her sister as well, longing for the opportunity to be with people her own age.

     In what becomes a road movie where the group sets off to find Little Rock, a number of hilarious characters are found along the way.  There’s Madison (Zoey Deutch), a Kardashian type with a Valley Girl persona claiming to have survived by living in a Pinkberry freezer at the mall, who presents a welcome foil between Columbus and Wichita.  Later, the group arrives at an Elvis themed hotel curated by Nevada (Rosario Dawson), a tough as nails hotel manager who takes an obvious liking to Tallahassee.  And perhaps in one of the most comedic sequences, in the film, characters played by Luke Wilson and Thomas Middleditch arrive with a look and skill set eerily similar to Tallahassee and Columbus, instantly creating a cautious but potentially beneficial friendship.

     You may not see a more creative production design in any film this year, particularly when you consider the sets created for the third act that sees the group arrive at a hippy sanctuary called Babylon.  It’s here where the final battle will take place, and given there are no weapons allowed, Tallahassee, Columbus, Wichita, and Little Rock will have to use their ingenuity to defeat an approaching hoard of whom they dub the “T-800s” due to how difficult they are to kill.  And it’s during the final stand where you realize just how entertaining and hilarious all of this is to see.  Perhaps a film like “Zombieland: Double Tap” will encourage other A-listers on both sides of the camera to put forth their talents on something that isn’t necessarily designed to win awards, but to remind us as the audience of what our favorite part of going to the movies is and always has been.  The pure escapism of a guilty pleasure.  GRADE: B