Zombieland: Double Tap Review: “Why Now? Why This Sperm?”
Reese Witherspoon said it best in Legally Blonde: “Why now? Why *this* sperm?” Where Legally Blonde’s sequel took the concept of an underestimated pretty girl in law school and applied it to a message about sexism in politics that we could all stand to hear again in 2020, Zombieland: Double Tap had no real reason for being made. Maybe if writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick‘s plans to turn their sleeper hit into a franchise or television series back in 2009 had panned out, they would’ve had something new to say, but Sony clearly green-lit Double Tap as a guaranteed money-maker piggybacking off of Rhett and Paul’s massive hit with Deadpool and Deadpool 2. Tonally, that lines up, and we’ll never complain about more Deadpool (even if its not necessarily Deadpool). The up-and-coming leads from Zombieland are now Oscar-winners and nominees, director Ruben Fleischer is quickly becoming one of the most interesting creators of big-screen drama, and ‘00s nostalgia is the current King of Capitalism. Rambling and pointless as it might be, Double Tap does exactly what it set out to do: take a victory lap for a race that was won a decade ago.
Double Tap begins with Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), Wichita (Emma Stone, delightfully returning to her Apatowian comedy roots), and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) settling into domestic bliss. Somehow, this domestic bliss taking place in what was once the White House doesn’t make these early scenes more than marginally interesting, and it isn’t just the audience who’s feeling a little restless. Echoing the first film, Wichita and Little Rock take off in the night, leaving Columbus dejected and Tallahassee itchy to hit the road again himself. When Little Rock gives Witchita a taste of her own medicine and leaves with a Pachouli-huffing pacifist, the trio reunites to save their spiritual little sister from a fate worse than death — losing her virginity to a musician. And, also, from literal death. Traveling with a pacifist during the zombie apocalypse is an illogical recipe for disaster. Leading up to its far superior latter half, most of Double Tap’s exposition moves at a molasses-slow pace that leaves the audience with way too much time to wonder why they find Jesse Eisenberg so sexy and what that says about them as a person.
Once our heroes hit the road, Double Tap comes into its own with better timing, a clearer path, and appearances by Luke Wilson, Eisenberg doppelganger Thomas Middleditch, and Rosario Dawson that breathe life into the familiar storyline. The most notable newcomer, Zoey Deutch, steals every scene as Madison, a sexist caricature of a Valley Girl that would have been entirely unbearable without Zoey’s infallible charm and the best one-liners of the film. What could’ve easily been a lazy, bitter joke of a character became a veritable laugh-fest in the theatre, which is both a testament to Zoey and a sign that Rhett and Paul knew their audience, for better or for worse. Avan Jogia’s crunchy Berkeley — yeah, the hippie was from Berkeley, another super original take — was probably thrown in to even out Madison’s mean-spirited characterization with a male counterpart, but it didn’t hit quite the same.
The second half’s cross-country shenanigans also allow the film’s impressive fight choreography to take center stage, with a Shawn of the Dead-instigated, single-shot style brawl in Graceland that almost made us applaud in the theatre, like those assholes that clap when a plane lands. Following in the grand zombie tradition of The Evil Dead and Day of the Dead, Double Tap’s superfluous gore delivered what we expected from Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood and sorely missed. For a movie that could’ve easily just been point ‘n’ shoot, its gunless fight moments might’ve been the only innovation during Double Tap’s 99-minute run.
The first Zombieland snuck by through self-referentiality, its era, and a generally strong concept. Well, the era has changed, the concept was already brought to life a decade ago, and self-referentiality can only take you so far. In Double Tap, we see exactly how far that is, as Zombieland is treated as the most important reference of them all not only as a blueprint for the film’s basic outline, but also as a pat on the back for fans who thought, “Sure, I’ll spend $20 on this movie again.” The result is a mostly fun, often tired sequel that didn’t need to be made, but will definitely make back its $48 million budget and then some from satisfied fans of the original film. Hopefully, Double Tap’s profit will go towards developing an original script made by or starring women, people of color, or anyone who isn’t a white dude. A girl can dream!