By SHAWN MACOMBER
Starring Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg and Emma Stone
Directed by Ruben Fleischer
Written by Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick and Dave Callaham
Breezy lark might not seem the most natural descriptor for a film that features human bodies run through a hay baler, crushed under the wheels of a monster truck, blown up in a hippie commune, beaten to death with various artifacts from Elvis Presley’s estate, etc., but ZOMBIELAND: DOUBLE TAP is effortless in that way: Though never cover-your-eyes frightening or fall-out-of-your-seat funny, it is a droll, effervescent, utterly charming comedic adventure through an apocalyptic horror scenario that rarely stumbles into straight-up SCARY MOVIE-esque spoof. And it works perfectly for every frame of its 99-minute runtime.
Here’s how the sequel gets the gang back on the road: Mirroring our own world, 10 years have passed in this alternate, zombie-infested universe. Killing and survival have become rote for Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), Wichita (Emma Stone), and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin). Early on, they fight their way into the hulking ruin of the White House, and amidst its fortifications, they discover extended safety for the first time. This, as a matter of temperament, suits Columbus; he’d be content to revel in this insulated domesticity forever. Alas, when the adrenaline rush of almost-constant exodus and existential threats are taken out of the equation, there is suddenly time to breathe, to dream, to regret, to imagine roads not taken. Little Rock is a young adult now, but still trapped in the role of child sidekick to a well-meaning if sometimes overbearing Tallahassee. Meanwhile, Wichita finds herself second-guessing her relationship with Columbus after her instinctual reaction to his marriage proposal is…less than euphoric.
It’s not hard to see where this is headed. To endure, the love that binds the group must be tested. And to test the love, the sisters must bail. So they do, striking out on their own. But one argument over whether to throw in with a stoner pacifist Little Rock is crushing on later, even this familial circle is broken. Now Wichita must go back to ask her jilted ex-lover—who has rebounded with the sweet-yet-ditzy Madison, portrayed to Valley Girl perfection by Zoey Deutch—and former compatriot Tallahassee to hit the road to save Little Rock. Hilarity, acerbic interpersonal conflict, and, of course, carnage ensue.
Beyond simply revisiting the natural chemistry of this quartet and the aforementioned, gruesomely grandiose setpieces, ZOMBIELAND: DOUBLE TAP—once again helmed by Ruben Fleischer and written by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, this time with a little help from Dave Callaham—earns its climb out of the grave with a couple of wonderful secondary character additions. First, there is Rosario Dawson as Nevada, a smart, charismatic, battle-toughened woman who accidentally transforms Tallahassee into a lovelorn puppy dawg with her highly accurate recreation of rooms from Graceland. And then there’s the film’s greatest coup: Luke Wilson and Thomas Middleditch (THE FINAL GIRLS) as Albuquerque and Flagstaff, a pair of straight-up doppelgangers for Tallahassee and Columbus—which rather subtly explores the idea of whether a certain type of complimentary partnership makes survival more likely than others. Also, Eisenberg and Middleditch trading pointers and mildly passive-aggressive affirmations is the most delightful sequence of an already delightful film. It really is worth the price of admission alone.
Some mild gags at the expense of the “woke” folk populating Babylon, a commune named after the David Gray song (!), have, unsurprisingly, led to some criticisms of DOUBLE TAP as an overt celebration of toxic masculinity—which obviously makes it a stealth vehicle for—sigh—Trumpism. This knock on the film feels like a too-clever-by-half stretch. It’s a comedy about how human foibles play out under absurdly heightened circumstances—virtually every character here gets the piss taken out of them at some point or another. And, honestly, almost all of them get a chance to play hero in their own way as well. To ignore the latter in favor of one piece of the former is a bit unfair to the individuals and clearly goofy motivations of all involved. This is made all the more explicit as characters mock certain phrases and ideas as outdated and so…2009.
ZOMBIELAND: DOUBLE TAP is a great example of the potential that can be realized when a set of characters and a concept are revisited for the right reasons. This is not a tossed-together jumble of ideas rushed into production to capitalize on the success of the original, and perhaps that’s why it feels so fully actualized and worthwhile. There may be a lesson here about germination and intention that would be worthwhile for some quarters of genre to heed. Regardless, it’s difficult not to walk out of the theater looking forward to finding out where the flawed, sarcastic, winning warriors of Zombieland will be circa 2029.