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Zombieland: Double Tap (15)

Director: Ruben Fleischer
Dave Callaham
Rhett Reese

Starring: Woody HarrelsonJesse EisenbergEmma Stone

Review: David Stephens

If there is an American equivalent of the UK’s beloved zombie romp-com “Shaun of the Dead”, then it probably has to be 2009’s “Zombieland”. A breakneck feel-good pastiche on the undead apocalypse, it was the biggest grossing zombie film in the states until “World War Z” released waves of CGI snapping corpses in 2013. The secret to its success was the top-notch cast (Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, and Abigail Breslin), along with its irreverent spin on zombie lore. So it was no surprise that rumours of a sequel started to circulate after it became a cult hit. The only real shocker was that it took 10 years to pull it together, although the increasing star-power of the core cast (especially the Oscar-Winning Stone) added some time to work it out. The original director was Ruben Fleischer, who also recently made “Venom”, and he returns to the director’s chair again here. With the core cast all in place, and a couple of notable additions, we celebrate the 10th Birthday of “Zombieland” by watching the four actors NOT shut-up but nut-up once again…

It’s been 10 years since the mutated version of “Mad Cow Disease” spread to humans and created the archetypical running zombies that reduced America (and the rest of the world) to a wasteland. Happily, ace survivors Tallahassee, Columbus, Wichita, and Little Rock (Harrelson, Eisenberg, Stone, and Breslin… slipping straight back into character like it was yesterday) have become killing machines and live by the 30-odd rules compiled by Columbus to thrive. Deciding to squat in the White House, they take over and become a functional family unit. But life (even on alternate Earths devastated by zombies) never runs that smooth, with friction and itchy-feet eventually causing a split. So our heroes go on the road once again, meeting new faces and deadly evolved zombies…

The subtitle “Double-Tap” cleverly refers to the second rule of Columbus, namely that you should always use more than one bullet on a zombie to make sure they stay down. It’s a neat in-joke that appeals more to diehard fans than a simple “Zombieland 2”. But it’s also indicative of the main issue with this sequel. Yes, it’s funny, snarky, and it’s great to see that core cast interacting together again. But unless you’re a huge fan of the original, you aren’t going to get all the little touches that are crammed into the screenplay. The verb “Murraying” enters the dictionary (you can probably guess what act that refers to) and even the girl from Apartment 406 (Amber Heard) gets a call-out from Columbus in a throwaway line. But whilst that is all well and good, and people who go to see sequels have usually seen the first one, this feels less of a continuation of the first film, and just an unnecessary bolt-on (or DLC). We don’t learn anything more about the leads, apart from they work well with each other in the apocalypse and can kill zombies. Back in 2009 (this was before “The Walking Dead” remember!), the idea of zombies evolving might have seen original, but it’s been done-to-death (hah!) in the horror genre now, as have the huge waves of CGI zombies flinging themselves at the cast.

The plot itself simply consists of the characters going from A to B to C to D, for fairly contrived reasons. The only original touches being the new characters they meet. Rosario Dawson’s “Nevada” fits right in, as well as Zoey Deutch’s “Madison” – a character that could have been as irritating as hell with a “dumb blonde” routine, but instead becomes rather endearing and steals every scene she’s in. For fans of cult UK comedy, think of Father Ted and Dougal! There’s even a “Faraway” gag in there, although that’s probably an accidental reference. Anyway, she also acts as a catalyst for some of the best banter, especially between Stone and Eisenberg, who play “Insult Ping-Pong” like world masters. Indeed that’s one of the best aspects of this sequel; the chemistry that existed between the leads in 2009 just seamlessly blends into the set-up here. There’s a real guilty pleasure in seeing Stone obviously enjoy herself, destroying arguments with an arched eyebrow and zombies with a bazooka. You get the impression that Wichita could kill a person with sarcasm alone. There’s also a lovely Father/Daughter relationship that has grown between Tallahassee and Little Rock, which plays to comedic strengths of Harrelson and Breslin. He remains the underrated heart of the film (as in the first one), and it’s great to see Harrelson let loose at various moments. Just watch his reaction when told about his “Daughter’s” inappropriate boyfriend!

Is it funny though? Well, yes. It’s generally pretty funny and mostly highly enjoyable. There are some dud moments though, the lengthy scene where Tallahassee and Columbus meet their doppelgangers is just laboured and not amusing, and feels like it goes on forever (although it does end in a great fight scene). There’s a faint whiff of “Anchorman 2” or “Zoolander 2” about it all though, in that the originality is now gone and the gags have to try harder to hit the target. There’s also an increasing amount of “Deadpool” 4th-wall breaking as well. Columbus: “Unless you’re watching this in a 4D cinema, you’ll have no idea how bad Z-Land smells!” The rules are displayed onscreen once again, with cinematic actions scattering the font everywhere. Columbus even has the temerity to trash “The Walking Dead” comic at one point! But there are some laugh-out-loud moments as well. Madison explains her idea for “Uber” (which doesn’t exist in this universe) and gets derided hilariously.

The film does get some surprisingly visual sequences, such as the introduction of “Babylon” and a great “one-take” lengthy fight with some zombies that has some brilliant choreography. Whilst the zombies themselves feel a little underused as a credible threat, the introduction of their types is quite amusing (“Homers” & “Hawkings”), with some cool slo-mo kills. We do actually get to briefly see outside the states at one point, with some outstanding use for classic Italian architecture. And if you’re lucky enough to have avoided it in the trailers (*Raises fist to the heavens*: “When will they learn?!”), there’s a lovely extra surprise during the credits. So overall, it is funny and entertaining, but it also feels a little unnecessary. It doesn’t bring anything new to either the zombie genre or the comedy franchise. Worth seeing for stuff like Madison, most of the one-liners, and the credit sequences. But you may feel a little short-changed otherwise. If you are a rabid fan of the characters and the original film, it may be worth adding a little to our rating below, but otherwise this is unadventurous but enjoyable zombie fun, and there’s worse out there…

It’s fun and silly, and the cast all throw themselves wholeheartedly back into their characters. There are a couple of good additions to the cast, and it’s surprisingly accomplished on a cinematic level. But the plot is non-existent, and a couple of gags outstay their welcome. You’ll have a blast if you loved the original, but there’s nothing new here…
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