Some 10 years after the first Zombieland came out and arguably kicked off a decade of fascination with flesh-eating reanimated corpses, our quartet of fierce (and hapless) survivors returns in Zombieland: Double Tap. And surprisingly enough, they still manage to squeeze a number of laughs out of this shopworn genre even if the movie itself doesn’t have a whole lot new to say.
Getting the old gang back together both in front of and behind the camera–including Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, and Abigail Breslin on the screen– goes a long way toward making Zombieland: Double Tap more enjoyable than it has any right to be, especially after a wearying decade of the now nearly unwatchable The Walking Dead and its many spin-offs and knock-offs (including a Zombieland TV series developed by Amazon that never got out of the starting gate).
As we reconnect with Tallahassee (Harrelson), Columbus (Eisenberg), Wichita (Stone) and Little Rock (Breslin), we find them setting up camp in a deserted White House after 10 years of zombie killing and surviving on the road (the film avoids any time-sensitive jokes about who may have been living there last). Remember, one of the rules is that you use your city of origin as a nickname, instead of your real name, to avoid any personal attachments to people in these dangerous times. But the attachments are flying free among our little family, with Columbus getting ready to propose to Wichita (using the Hope Diamond as an engagement ring), and Tallahassee all but adopting Little Rock as his daughter.
So imagine the two men’s surprise when they wake up one morning and discover that Wichita and Little Rock have up and left, understandably feeling too burdened by being shoehorned into traditional roles by the guys. A month later, a lonely Columbus meets Madison (Zoey Deutch) while he and Tallahassee are canvassing an abandoned mall; despite her utter vapidity, she seduces him in just about as much time as it takes to give her a guided tour of the White House. So when Wichita returns and tells the boys that Little Rock has run off with a hippie named Berkeley to see Graceland, cue the team to hit the road again–including an oblivious Madison who settles next in next to Witchita for the long haul, asking if she’s Columbus’ sister. But if you think Witchita is getting angry, wait until you see Tallahassee learn Little Rock’s new paramour is from Berkeley…
There’s not much of a plot to Zombieland 2; a lot of the narrative either remixes situations from the first film (the girls leaving the guy behind, an ultimate destination that promises a kind of sanctuary or wish fulfillment) or borrows tropes from the zombie apocalypse playbook (said sanctuary is a gun-and-conflict-free socialist utopia).
On the other hand, the filmmakers wisely decide not to repeat the showstopping Bill Murray cameo from the first film (although, as you may have seen from the trailers, Murray does eventually show up). Instead a new sequence featuring Luke Wilson and Thomas Middleditch as more aggressive mirror images of Tallahassee and Columbus provides some thoroughly weird, almost surreal fun, as our pair of befuddled heroes end up battling to the death with the most hyper-alpha versions of themselves around (Rosario Dawson is also provides solid cameo work).
What ultimately powers Double Tap though is the chemistry and repartee among our four leads. There’s even character growth… sort of. While Harrelson repeats his “nut up or shut up” catchphrase two or three times, there’s no mention made of his Twinkies addiction from the first film. Harrelson, of course, is a national treasure: from his outsized response to even the word “Berkeley” to his clumsy yet sincere attempts to be a father figure for Little Rock, the actor somehow makes what could have been a coarse post-apocalyptic stereotype into a real person.
The same goes for Stone (grounded and sharp as usual), Eisenberg (doing Eisenberg) and Breslin (who skillfully handles an almost entirely different character a decade later). The four of them are as comfortable with each other and their roles as actors can be, even after the 10 years it took to get this sequel up and running. The new cast members fit in well too, as Deutch goes completely against her usual smart girl roles with relish, while Wilson and Middleditch just go nuts.
It seems like there may not have been much of a demand for a Zombieland sequel after all this time, but coming at the end of nearly a decade of the grimdark, endlessly bleak atrocities that The Walking Dead and company have been bringing us (not to mention a clutch of derivative “zom-coms” that have arisen in Zombieland’s wake), its plentiful laughs and casual craziness may be just what we need right now.
Zombieland: Double Tap is out in theaters Friday (October 18).
Don Kaye is a Los Angeles-based entertainment journalist and associate editor of Den of Geek. Other current and past outlets include Syfy, United Stations Radio Networks, Fandango, MSN, RollingStone.com and many more. Read more of his work here. Follow him on Twitter @donkaye