In the pantheon of belated sequels no one particularly needed, Zombieland: Double Tap is not as egregious as Zoolander 2. It does not encourage a post-credits existential crisis relating to how or why you enjoyed the original in the first place. Nor does it feature an ensemble cast straining for modern relevance by desperately exhuming one of their past hits. But it does bear the faint whiff of Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues, a hit-or-miss comic also-ran riding entirely on audience familiarity, actors with great screen presence and jokes we laughed at a decade ago.
In 2009, there was something genuinely thrilling about Zombieland, with its unconventional approach to the zombie genre, sweet chemistry between then-nascent stars Jesse Eisenberg and Emma Stone, and the self-deprecating Bill Murray cameos and the mocking references to Garfield. But the film hasn’t left an enormous cultural footprint. Twinkies don’t automatically conjure images of Woody Harrelson’s confectionery-obsessed redneck Tallahassee. The “rules” of how to survive a zombie apocalypse have become so connected to terrible small talk and bland first-year university parties that it’s easy to forget that they originated in the first film. And Stone has become so connected with prestige cinema in the interim that you’d be forgiven for doing a double take at Zombieland appearing on her CV. It all grants Double Tap an air of being very late to the party.
The sequel picks up a decade after the original film, though besides Abigail Breslin getting far taller, it feels like little has changed. An Obama “Hope” poster hangs optimistically in a post-apocalyptic White House, Uber is a vaguely ludicrous idea theorised during a long drive, and zombies still roam the US. Our quartet of heroes – survivors drawn together by necessity in the first film and all named after the locations they were previously hiding out in – are this time split apart. Father figure Tallahassee wants greater respect, tough Wichita (Stone) storms off after boyfriend Columbus (Eisenberg) proposes to her, and Wichita’s one-time kid sister Little Rock (Breslin) is now 22 and eager to fly the coop and date boys. She hitches a ride with a faux-deep bohemian musician (Avan Jogia) and sets forth to find a hippie commune, unaware of a new strain of super-zombies on her trail.
What then unfolds is cripplingly episodic, the script (by original screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick alongside David Callaham) shuffling awkwardly from point A to point B as Tallahassee, Wichita and Columbus chase after the pair. New characters, among them an Elvis-loving survivor played by Rosario Dawson and an exhaustingly dim blonde played by Zoey Deutch, are introduced with each additional pit stop for our heroes to feud, barter with or fall for.
By the time the film reaches its abrupt conclusion, complete with vast CGI zombie horde, Double Tap has long abandoned any sense of explicitly needing to exist. Instead it merely coasts on its own pleasantness. Eisenberg and Stone remain lovely together, with an easy, dry rapport that manages to overpower the strained drama of their storyline. And the jokes fly better when they’re nerdily specific, with references to David Gray and Wesley Snipes particular highlights. But Double Tap never develops into anything other than a perfectly fine and fitfully funny waste of everyone’s time.
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