Courtesy of Sony
Whether you’ve got “Dumb and Dumber” or “Zoolander,” it’s always safe to keep your expectations in check when there’s a sequel to a beloved original decades later. That’s the same optimism I had entering “Zombieland: Double Tap,” Ruben Fleischer’s long gestating follow-up to the horror comedy “Zombieland” which took the whole zombie craze by storm and wrote a new rule book on the matter. Ironically, that seems to be the main issue with “Double Tap:” where that in 2009, “The Walking Dead” had just started (not to mention we were years away from the onslaught of studios cashing in on the genre) and thus the brain craving monsters seemed like a fresh concept and primed for a silly satire. Ten years later, that novelty which made “Zombieland” seem fresh has sadly wore off. There are brief moments when the filmmakers are tinkering with something new and engaging, but it’s not enough to raise the stakes or give a solid foundation to revisit this universe a second time.
The jokes and concepts are more of the same, and writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick (“Deadpool”) have gone on the record saying they’ve dreamed about a sequel for years, which makes the sloppier elements all the more cringeworthy. Save for a last minute cameo during the credits and “Double Tap” is void of any inspired comedy. There is good stuff, of course, starting with the core four - Jesse Eisnenberg’s rule writing Columbus, Woody Harelson as the gun wielding Tallahassee, Emma Stone as the snarky Wichita, and Abigail Breslin as the kid sister Little Rock - all of which seem to fall right back into their characters seamlessly. It almost feels like they’ve never left.
Columbus is still hell bent on sticking to his survival rules (Rule #1 Cardio or Rule #7 Avoid bathrooms - which are again introduced by way of zippy examples and flashy on screen text). Harrleson feels the most at home as the amicable Tallahassee, meanwhile Stone and Breslin spark their flaunty charm as the whole crew continue to adapt to their environments and seek refuge in high security locations such as The White House, a worn down hotel in Graceland, and a spiffy new commune called Babylon populated with vegan freaks and pacficsits.
The biggest addition to the ensemble, however, is Zoey Deutch as the newbie Madison. A sporting airhead if ever one existed in the apocalypse, Madison has been literally living in a Pinkberry freezer since the outbreak when Columbus accidentally stumbles upon her while sniffing candles. Your enjoyment of “Double Tap” will solely rely on your tolerance of the squeaky pitched tour-guide Barbie vibe she radiates (I was growing restless). There’s some good jabs about “The Terminator,” and two strange Columbus and Tallahassee doppelgangers (Thomas Middelditch and Luke Wilson) that elicit a chuckle or two, but it again holds on to the crutch of the first film with the constant stream of zombie jokes and rules that end up feeling dated.
Every movie sequel is inevitably obliged to honor certain elements of the first film, and “Double Tap” takes that fan service to heart, stripping any tension away from the current predicament. Considering this is a series built on the unpredictable brain-biting ghouls, suspense is a big factor in balancing out a solid horror comedy. That’s something desperately missing in “Double Tap.”
At least some characters in the film aren’t entirely rid of motivation. Certain scenes showcase a measure of substance that sporadically help push the plot forward, and there’s maybe enough here for hardcore “Zombieland” fans to get their fix. After all, there's a big space for laughs (Eisenberg and Harrleson in particular add an edge to their relationship) and a ridiculous final battle where the body count rises substantially. But it’s hard to imagine that after sitting on this potential franchise for ten years, the screenwriters couldn’t deliver something more savvy. In the end, “Double Tap” tries to push for any cheap laugh it can get, merely recycling old jokes, and then repackaging them for a new audience. Maybe there should be a rule for originality?
Oh, and there’s not one single mention of Twinkies.