' ' Cinema Romantico: Zombieland: Double Tap

Monday, October 28, 2019

Zombieland: Double Tap

“Zombieland” became beloved not least because of the rules devised by Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) to survive America’s plague of the undead. And to critique its ten-year later sequel, “Zombieland: Double Tap”, a title referencing one of the original rules, we now turn to another rules-lover, Randy Meeks of “Scream 2”, who observed the rules of the sequel. “Number One: The Body count is always bigger. Number Two: The Death scenes are always much more elaborate. More blood, more Gore. Carnage Candy!” That’s why “Double Tap” takes everything up a notch, evoked in a monster truck that shows up midway through. That’s not to suggest the sequel is any lighter in tone than its predecessor. If anything, it takes the proceedings less seriously. Not so much, even, in its sporadic meta potshots, like one at its emergent TV competition in the years since, as in its overriding air, where the new & deadlier zombies aren’t so much a big problem as a minor nuisance. A post-credits Easter egg is designed to be the out-of-context hit of any dorm room party also works as a summation of theme – anything for a laugh.

When “Zombieland” ended, Columbus had found his metaphorical home in the company of Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), Little Rock (Abigail Breslin), and his nascent paramour, Wichita (Emma Stone). As “Double Tap” opens, the quartet has moved into an actual home at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. A Shepard Fairey Obama “Hope” poster hangs over the mantle, reminding (some of) us of the whimsical days when the original was released and suggesting the wasteland outside the White House as comparable to our current world. If that sounds like too much of a bleeding-heart fantasy, fear not, for the characters’ journeys take them to a commune named for Babylon where plenty of comic aspersions are cast on hippies while Tallahassee, at a crucial moment exclaims, “Thank God for rednecks!” This is equal opportunity adventure. Everyone gets along when they’re fightin’ zombies!

Well, almost. A decade is a long time to spend in the company of just a few others and the strain shows immediately. Wichita flees the White House after Columbus proposes marriage, while Little Rock flees just before her, itching to leave the nest in the face of Tallahassee essentially installing himself as a father figure. Indeed, if he comes across overbearing, that’s by design, both in the writing and performance, and, honestly, I kept wanting to tell Harrelson to just take it easy, man. But when Wichita learns Little Rock has hooked up with some anti-gun free spirit – named, predictably, Berkley (Avan Jogia) – Wichita rejoins her male cohorts to initiate a rescue mission, taking them to Memphis and points beyond, to Babylon, an adventure complicated by the presence of a new group member, Columbus’s ersatz new significant other, Madison (Zoey Deutch).

She’s a dumb blonde and Deutch is as committed to the bit as Johnny Depp was to rum-addled camp as Jack Sparrow, and she contorts that single note as long and as deftly as she can. In the end, though, the movie doesn’t really take her character anywhere, even as she gets to go along for the ride. Ditto the hippies. Not so much Berkeley, even, as the Babylonians who initially hint at town folk in a Western who ante up in the face of looming heavies. “Zombieland: Double Tap”, though, mostly forgets about them after a few standard-issue jokes. It’s especially disappointing given the original movie’s propensity to call attention to clichés for the purpose of then subverting them; there’s less subversion here.

There is a little less filmmaking discipline too. If Fleischer’s original stood out for maintaining steady momentum even while effusing a leisurely vibe then “Double Tap” just feels leisurely, for good and bad. A Bizzaro World sequence at an Elvis-themed hotel, quoting the first film’s extended stay at Bill Murray’s pad, cleverly lampoons Columbus and Tallahassee’s tendencies in ways, fear not, reader, I will refrain from revealing. At the same time, this sequence, funny as it is, highlights how the movie is mostly just taking the personalities of the first film and amplifying them rather than advancing or challenging them in any compelling way. That goes for Little Rock too, whose odyssey’s end isn’t much different from Columbus, Tallahassee and Wichita attempting to commander an RV, much ado about nothing.

Columbus’s marriage proposal that Wichita walks out on ostensibly hums in the background, though Stone hardly plays to it, aware that plot points are, like, beside the point. Astutely noting that Harrelson is turned up to 11, she downshifts to a cool 3 or 4, pulling a deft trick of both being in the front row but acting like she’s just shaking her head and sighing from the peanut gallery. (Her facial expressions as her character is forced to watch Berkeley flirt with Little Rock are the single funniest thing in the movie.) And if “Double Tap” is spinning its wheels, there is something simultaneously freeing in it never needing to try for anything more, which Stone encapsulates, speaking for all of us, as we drop in for an hour and forty minutes to see how everyone’s doing and just go along for the ride.

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