Things were very different in zombie movies before the phenomenon of the TV show The Walking Dead. Comedy ranked just as important as horror, leading to such classics as 2004’s Shaun of the Dead and 2009’s Zombieland. Different in so many ways, both groundbreaking films entertained as much as they pushed the boundaries of zombie flicks and established their own rules. I had great hope for a sequel to Zombieland, especially since the trailer was so good. Unfortunately, the trailer misled audiences in its promise of an exciting, funny horror-comedy. Zombieland: Double Tap boasts just a few great scenes and mostly plods along from one memorable moment to another like a zombie looking for its next meal.
The marketing for Zombieland: Double Tap proudly announces the involvement of the director of Venom (Ruben Fleischer, also of Zombieland) and the writers of Deadpool (Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, joined here by Dave Callaham). That kind of promotion or blowing your own horn only counts if you deliver something on par with those projects. Despite the talent of their filmmakers, Venom and Deadpool are far more entertaining than this slog through American locations. People take on the names of their hometowns in this world. (Just call me West Conshohocken.) Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) take residence in the White House and enjoy a comfortable life. Echoing the same plot as Zombieland, Wichita and Little Rock take off for different reasons, and Tallahassee and Columbus later follow to find and save them. Along the way, they encounter ditzy blonde Madison (Zoey Deutch) and asskicker Nevada (Rosario Dawson). Part road movie, part challenging missions, the story leads to encounters with super zombies who move fast and require much more than the titular double tap to kill.
Although I like when actors push themselves to escape their comfort zones, it can be equally entertaining to get exactly what you’d expect from leads. Harrelson, Eisenberg, Stone and Breslin rehash their familiar personalities, and you relish meeting old friends in a new setting. Without too many surprises from the leads, it comes down to Deutch and Dawson to steal the show as they do in every one of their scenes. Most of the funny lines come from Deutch in her Valley Girl cadence or are made at her expense, and Dawson commands the screen with each shotgun blast or fight sequence. Sadly, the filmmakers don’t explore their new blood more, and we’re left with way too much commentary by the nerdy Eisenberg as he addresses the audience and describes Columbus’s rules for the zombie apocalypse and other things that cross his mind. Luke Wilson and Thomas Middleditch appear later on in an inspired casting choice and provide an extra level of comedy that should have been extended.
Comedy and horror rank as some of the toughest genres to get exactly right, and Zombieland: Double Tap makes you giggle instead of laugh with zombies that are more cannon fodder than terrifying creatures. In an ill-placed moment in the film and trailer, Columbus comments while reading an issue of the comic book The Walking Dead. The two worlds are light-years apart with the comics and TV show far more entertaining and occasionally funny. Poor pacing ruins the movie because it doesn’t find its sea legs and ride the ebb and flow of the story. Pun fully intended, dead spots abound after an exciting opening sequence set to Metallica. The material doesn’t cut it, so all of the promise of the filmmakers and cast involved leads to a ho-hum experience.
I would be remiss not to discuss the variety of zombies and kills. Plenty of blood and guts will satisfy the gore fans in the audience. Various disgusting fluids and body parts comprise the daily lives of the characters. Such matter-of-fact zombie attacks and violent responses give the outing its signature attitude. After an introduction to the types of zombies that are out there, Columbus explains some of his rules for dealing with them along with accompanying graphics for examples of each rule. The “Homer” zombies are my favorite, but the story introduces the super zombies that feel like they ran right from World War Z into this movie. Some of the best, brief moments highlight the most interesting zombie kills as noted by Columbus, and the zombie kill of the year might have been the only time that I actually laughed. Special effects merge seamlessly with practical effects to create the deaths and zombie attacks that trigger fun rather than terror.
The Babylon location feels like a different kind of amusement park to echo that exciting place in Zombieland. Even these scenes seem like a retread with Tallahassee and Columbus hoping to retrieve Little Rock from her new home. Stay through the credits for an extra scene that’s funnier than the entire preceding movie. For that to be true, the filmmakers failed. The Zombieland world contains enough unique elements that I would welcome a third entry if they went back to the drawing board. For now, Zombieland: Double Tap probably ends the franchise on life support that even a double shot of adrenaline might not be able to revive.