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Non-Review Review: Zombieland – Double Tap

“Time to nut up or shut up,” reflects veteran zombie hunter Tallahassee as a horde of the undead make their way across the front lawn of the Elvis-themed motel where he has taken up residence. His doppelganger, Albuquerque, responds derisively, “Isn’t that phrase a little 2009?”

It is more than “a little” 2009. Then again, Zombieland: Double Tap is more than a little 2009. The film is the latest in a line of long-delayed sequels, including Deadwood: The Movie, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, Toy Story 4 and Rambo: Last Blood. It feels as if the studios are rushing through their development slate as the end of the decade approaches, frantically trying to check off any potential sequels and spin-offs that might have been gestating. This is all a little strange, given that Zombieland was itself a modest critical and commercial hit, and hardly a film crying out for a sequel that has been a decade in the making.

“Tonight were going to party like it’s 2009.”

Double Tap feels rooted in 2009, for better and for worse. It is great to see this cast reassembled, as if the intervening decade had never happened. Part of the appeal of Zombieland was the combination of an apocalyptic horror with a low-key hangout comedy, and that is dependent on cast chemistry. The years have not altered that. However, there’s also an awkwardness to the film, a sense in which it hasn’t managed to keep pace with times. A few of its jokes feel curiously dated, but it also seems strangely disengaged from any shifting cultural trends over the past decade.

The result is a movie that is as solid and charming as the original film, but which occasionally feels like it is running in place. Double Tap is easy and entertaining, but never quite gets the blood flowing.

Columbus’ Day.

A large part of the appeal of the original Zombieland was the delightfully odd combination of Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, Woody Harrelson and Abigail Breslin; actors who were very strong individually, but who also happened to find an easy chemistry with one another. In the years since, the cast has only become more acclaimed; Eisenberg is now an Oscar-nominated actor, Stone has won an Oscar and been nominated for two more, and Harrelson has picked up two more Oscar nominations. It is strange – but oddly reassuring – to watch the ease with which the actors slip back into their goofy comedy rhythms.

Both Zombieland and Double Tap are essentially hangout comedies; they are not one million miles away from Apatowian man-child comedies like Step Brothers or The 40-Year-Old Virgin or Knocked Up. At their core, they are the story of Jesse Eisenberg’s Columbus, an introspective and insecure young man, who comes of age when circumstances force him to actually put himself out in the world. It just happens that the “circumstances” in question aren’t an accidental pregnancy or a yearning for intimacy, but a literal zombie apocalypse.

The King of Comedy.

Neither Zombieland nor Double Tap have the consistency of the best of these sorts of comedy. However, the chemistry between the core cast is strong enough that they never feel like a chore. The characters in Zombieland and Double Tap are all broadly drawn archetypes, like characters plucked out of a sitcom; Columbus is nerdy and obsessive, Tallahassee is emotionally stunted and impulsive, Wichita is distant and biting, while Little Rock is a rebellious teenage. However, the performers add a lot of shading to these archetypes, and work well enough together that the film can just keep bouncing them off one another.

To be fair, Double Tap pushes this approach to something approaching its limit with the addition of the new character Madison, played by Zoey Deutch. Deutch is a great addition to the cast, willing to throw herself into the role and eager to bounce off her cast mates. However, Madison herself feels curiously outdated. She is the sort of ditzy stereotypical dumb blonde that was a feature of sixties comedies, an archetype that has fallen out of favour in comparison to the other archetypes populating Zombieland. Madison is a very broad character, very generic, and very one-note. There is no subversion or deconstruction.

Albuquerque took a wrong turn.

It is a little disappointing, as part of the appeal of watching these characters bounce off one another is the suggestion of growth and development. Tallahassee is much more sensitive than even he would admit. Columbus fixates on order and structure, but is drawn to the randomness of human connection. Wichita consciously pushes people away, but is defined by a paradoxically strong attachment to the people that she lets in. Even two of the core climactic punchlines of Double Tap hinges on the revelation that Little Rock is more than just a sheltered teenager angry at her surrogate father figure. Madison has none of that.

Double Tap occasionally falls into the rhythms of the standard comedy sequel, feeling the seductive pull of the familiar and the routine. Several familiar jokes from Zombieland are replayed. Some are even upgraded, with “zombie kill of the week” getting bumped up to “zombie kill of the year” to reflect the sequels larger budget and heightened scale. There is a lot of the familiar meta-humour, a lot of attention paid to the “rules” that Columbus has developed, often as a fetish object of themselves.

In the field.

At the same time, there is precious little since that anything has changed in the past decade. Double Tap occasionally alludes to how the characters are frozen in time, with one extended joke involving the characters dismissing the idea of “Uber” as ridiculous and fundamentally unworkable, acknowledging that their lives really froze in 2009. In the White House, a framed version of the Obama “Hope” poster suggests the appeal of such a static fantasy. One imagines that Double Tap is not alone in wanting to remain frozen in 2009, even a zombie-ravaged version of it.

That said, there is little sense of how pop culture itself has moved on in the intervening decade. At one point, Columbus leafs through a Walking Dead comic book. “Terrifying,” he muses. “But completely unrealistic.” However, there is something strange in the sense that Double Tap‘s vision of the zombie apocalypse is still shaped more by Shaun of the Dead and the Dawn of the Dead remake than it is by anything that has happened since; particularly given that The Walking Dead is the biggest show on television.

BeWichita.

Ironically, the most modern aspect of Double Tap is perhaps its most narratively frustrating. Reflecting shifts in blockbuster storytelling, writers Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick and Dave Callaham awkwardly try to graft themes about “family” atop a relatively episodic narrative. It doesn’t work, and it fells very clunky in an otherwise broad script. It feels like a nod to the fact that a lot of modern blockbusters are built around the generic theme of family, most notably The Fast and the Furious or Guardians of the Galaxy.

To be fair, Double Tap occasionally hits on some winning comedy premises; like the characters, many of these arrive from the incongruous juxtaposition of standard sitcom set-ups with the plot beats of survival horror. One delightful extended sequence in the middle of the film has Columbus and Tallahassee confronted with their almost perfect doppelgangers Flagstaff and Albuquerque. “Does anyone else find them uniquely annoying?” Tallahassee demands at one point. “Uniquely?” Wichita responds, glancing at her own two companions. “No.”

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Double Tap is solid and sturdy, if unremarkable. It’s goofy and enjoyable, but in an entirely predictable sort of way. It’s comfortable, but perhaps too familiar. “Is it uniquely enjoyable?” one might ask. And the response will come, “Uniquely? No.”

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