Friday, 25 October 2019

Review: Zombieland - Double Tap

Zombieland: Double Tap
Cert: 15 / 99 mins / Dir. Ruben Fleischer / Trailer

Hey, d'you remember Zombieland? The low-fanfare, roundly entertaining ensemble comedy-horror from 2009 when The Walking Dead was only three seasons old so everyone was still into zombies? With the jokes and the splatter and the post-modern subversion of the nuclear family and 21st century crisis-management? Well if you missed that, here it is again only less.

Writer/director Ruben Fleischer returns - hoping for all the world that people still associate his name with the 2009 undead debut rather than last year's Venom - along with his original players in the form of Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), Wichita (Emma Stone), Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) and Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson). The years have been good to the cast, with Stone in particular largely beyond this type of fare these days, so their reunion is a definite point in the movie's favour.


We pick up ten years after first meeting the gang as they've settled into a dysfunctional yet relatively stable family unit. Stable that is until Little Rock feels the urge to flee the nest after a chance meeting with drifting stoner Berkeley (Avan Jogia), and the arrival of the valley-girl-esque Madison (Zoey Deutch). And so another road-trip and rescue mission begins through the burned out wreckage of America as fun, gunfire and relentless gore go hand in hand...

Eisenberg's opening (and subsequently sporadic) narration returns*1, as does the slow-motion, Metallica-backed title sequence*2, as do the on-screen graphics listing Zombieland's familiar rules, as do the Zombie Kill of The Week™ cutaways. And while it's certainly nice that these stylistic recurrences haven't been jettisoned during the production process, their collective weight quickly becomes the film's problem, rather than its solution. Double Tap is doing nothing new, even with characters we're meeting for the first time*3. The cast all do fairly well in their roles, but for the most part we've seen it before (in Eisenberg's case especially, as he only seems to have one performance).


The problem, as is so often the case, is one of expectation. 2009's Zombieland came out of nowhere and took civilian audiences and critics alike by surprise. But much like Guardians Of The Galaxy, Kingsman and Deadpool, the audience for this sequel consists almost entirely of fans of the first movie. And now they've got a checklist. What's more, in this case they've had that list for a decade. The zombie-culture renaissance has waned somewhat in the intervening ten years, and scripted references to Dawn Of The Dead and The Walking Dead now seem more lazy than geekily insightful.

Then there are the weird tonal shifts throughout, like the creative team couldn't agree on where to land between cynical, bleak and comic. It doesn't help that the characters new to this entry have only been half-written, so some of their 'exits' come off as similarly uneven. Ultimately, both the story and its execution feel very on-the-nose, as the film steams through in its bid to make as many callbacks as possible, hoping they'll be an adequate substitute for charm or originality*4. I mean, sincere congratulations to Fleischer for getting the band back together, but Double Tap feels as if they should have come back for more. It's like a second-draft screenplay became the shooting script without anyone noticing until the edit stage.


And for those among you thinking 'this sounds like it would work better as part of a double-bill with the original', I assure you it doesn't. I'd re-acquainted with that one at home in the afternoon before watching Double Tap, and if anything the direct comparison just hurts the sequel more. Don't get me wrong, the film has some great moments and even in its dips is never flat-out unenjoyable. It's just very forgettable.

There's a mid-credits scene which begins about 45 seconds into the credits (basically so that you won't be able to walk out without watching it start). It features a flashback/reprise of Bill Murray's Bill Murray™ character from the first Zombieland. And if you enjoy that, there's also a post-credits coda in the same vein. Alas, of the sizeable Saturday night crowd who'd come out to watch Double Tap, I was the only one who wanted to hang around that long. Which should tell you something about the mood in which the movie leaves its audience.

I'm not convinced that we needed a second Zombieland movie, and watching this I don't think Ruben Fleischer was either. But in a year which sees the sixth installments of both the Rambo and Terminator franchises, I see no real harm in splatting a few more ghouls just for the hell of it. Double Tap is basically fine, but that in itself is not.

You remember how Amazon made that TV spin-off pilot episode which worked relatively well on its own, yet still completely failed to recreate the spark of what had made Zombieland special in the first place? Well, now there's a movie like that as well...

So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
It is very, very similar to Zombieland.
That's not a bad thing, it's just not enough

Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?
Without wanting to damn with faint praise, you may as well see this in all the glory it's got on a huge cinema screen, yes.

Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?
It is, although the number of rewatches you'll get out of this is anyone's guess.

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
It isn't.

Will we disagree about this film in a pub?
Maybe not disagree, but discuss animatedly yes.

Is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There isn't.

Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: Tobias Beckett is in this.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…
That's a strong four, but I think the film will quickly earn a reputation of being 'neither nowt nor summat'.

*1 Although the narration seems to be aimed through the fourth-wall and directly at the viewer this time, rather than something which could broadly count as a diary being read retrospectively. [ BACK ]

*2 For the record, 1986's Master Of Puppets is used to open Double Tap. And I'll be honest, For Whom The Bell Tolls from the first movie worked far better. It's a super slo-mo sequence so the slower, heavier song creates a stronger pairing. Choosing Master Of Puppets to for the sequel just feels like Ruben Fleischer trying to impress a girl by picking his naming Metallica tracks. Which, as men of a certain age will no doubt know, never actually works. [ BACK ]

*3 Guys, seriously. The whole "oh we've met another group of travellers who are avoiding zombies and their defining characteristics are almost exactly like our own!" schtick was done first in Shaun Of The Dead. The one from fifteen years ago. And it was only a passing gag there, here's it's dragged out expanded to fifteen minutes for a punchline which could have been achieved after five. [ BACK ]

*4 Haha! Tallahassee is sitting in the president's chair in The White House*5! He's brash and uncivilised and kind of a moron and he's sitting in the president's chair! DO YOU SEE? DO YOU GET THE JOKE? THIS IS HOW YOU DO A SATIRE HAHAHAHA!! [ BACK ]

*5 Naturally it's not explained why our heroes are able to break into the White House and find everything intact because not a single looting soul has forced their way into one of the most prominent buildings in America over the previous ten years that it's stood empty. Although I imagine the reason is on the same page as the fact that they're living there for weeks/months and no one attempts to get in then, either, despite there being plenty of other surviving humans around elsewhere in the movie.
[ BACK ]

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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