Zombieland is not a classic. It was a sleeper hit in 2009, it helped further boost the careers of rising stars Jesse Eisenberg and Emma Stone, and was a breakthrough for writers Rhett Reese & Paul Wernick as well as director Ruben Fleischer. That’s not to say that Zombieland is a bad movie. Far from it, the movie holds up surprisingly well as a blend of sweet and cute tone mixed with R-rated comedy. You probably can’t quote a single line from Zombieland, but we all had a good laugh at the Bill Murray cameo. All of this is to say that Zombieland: Double Tap is not coming back to sacred ground like Zoolander 2 or Anchorman 2. Instead, the original creative team and cast of actors have reunited for another fun mishmash that’s surprisingly delightful even if it never feels necessary. Rather than trying to reinvent what made the first movie work or offer a bold new approach, Double Tap is a collection of goofy gags and charming new characters that make the sequel a nice companion to the original.
Picking up about ten years after the original, Columbus (Eisenberg), Wichita (Stone), Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) are still together and have set up shop in the White House, but tensions are starting to build. Columbus wants to marry Wichita, but she’s not sure she wants to make that commitment. Little Rock wants to find friends her own age and bristles under Tallahasse’s parentage even though he means well. The sisters decide to leave, but after picking up a pacifist hippie, Berkeley (Avan Jogia), Little Rock and the hippie take the car and head off to parts unknown. Wichita comes back to the White House for some help only to find that Columbus is now shacking up with the ditzy Madison (Zoey Deutch), who he and Tallahassee found surviving at the mall. The group heads out on a new road trip to reunite with Little Rock as evolved, harder-to-kill zombies continue stalk the wasteland.
Double Tap has the feel of a movie where everyone got back together because they had a good time making the first movie and the studio wanted a sequel rather than having a story that needed to be told. When we check back in with these characters, it doesn’t feel like they have ten years of history under their belts. With the exception of Little Rock now being in her early 20s rather than a tween, Double Tap is a movie that could have easily been made a couple years after the original, both in terms of character development and its comic sensibilities. No one really swung for the fences here because everyone’s in their comfort zone, and oddly enough, it works. Wernick & Reese still know how to tell good jokes, Fleischer shows more flash than he has in any film since the first Zombieland, and the cast continues to gel even if it’s clear they don’t really know what to do with Little Rock so she’s little more than a plot device.
The arc of the first Zombieland is that you have these four misfits who don’t really trust anyone, and they learn to become a family. Double Tap doesn’t have that arc and instead feels like a smattering of fun ideas that were cobbled into a script. Wouldn’t it be fun if Columbus hooked up with the polar opposite of Wichita? Tallahassee was all about Twinkies in the first movie, so what if now he’s really excited to go to Graceland because he loves Elvis? Maybe there should be a scene where Columbus and Tallahassee meet their doppelgangers. None of these ideas build to anything, but they’re fun enough when taken piecemeal.
The strongest new element by far is Madison with Deutch once again showing why she’s a star. Deutch has shined again and again in films like Vampire Academy, Everybody Wants Some!!, and Set It Up, and she steals every scene she’s in with Double Tap. Rather than just playing a typical airhead, Deutch uses her adept comic timing and characterization to make Madison her own. In some ways, Deutch is almost too good since the script calls for the other characters to be annoyed by Madison, and while their frustration is understandable (her sunny disposition and obliviousness are anathema to their hardened, callous survival), she’s a delight whenever she’s on screen and we don’t want her to go. As mainstream studio comedies die off, I’m not sure if Deutch will get the breakthrough role she deserves. No one is making an Easy A like they had for Stone back in 2010, and that’s a shame because Deutch can absolutely carry a studio comedy with ease.
Zombieland: Double Tap is an odd throwback of sorts to a dying breed of studio comedies. The setting may have advanced ten years, but it’s still a very 2009 movie freed from modern concerns and really just focused on having a good time with its characters and text graphics stating Columbus’ many rules. What makes Double Tap a little remarkable is that comedy sequels are usually bad. They can’t recapture what made the original work, and Double Tap succeeds by not overthinking it. The original Zombieland doesn’t cast a long shadow, so Double Tap is free to just slap together a bunch of lighthearted ideas and call it a movie. The film works far better than it should, so hop in the car, paint a Dale Earnhardt “3” on the side, and make a return visit to Zombieland.