In the years since the original Zombieland (2009), Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) have settled into their lives as a weird little family. They’ve taken shelter in the White House, turning it into their own zombie killing fortress/funhouse museum and are free to live in relative peace and harmony. However, when people are cooped up together in one place long enough, they start to get on each other’s nerves. So a combination of irritation, boredom, wanderlust, and Sony Pictures’ need to make more money send these four survivors back out into Zombieland for another mad-cap adventure.
There are a number of plot-related reasons why the gang leaves the safety of the White House. Little Rock wants to find people her own age. Wichita and Columbus are arguing about whether or not to get married. Tallahassee is bored. There’s a new breed of super dangerous zombies. None of it is particularly relevant beyond the fact that it gets a new adventure started. Instead, Zombieland: Double Tap functions more like a series of vignettes, dropping its characters into a situation, wringing as much comedy as possible out of it, and then moving on to something new. This approach is only intermittently successful, with not all of the jokes landing and long stretches that aren’t very funny, but the vignette style keeps things moving enough that the film never gets boring.
A lot of the comedy that does succeed works because of the excellent cast. Since the first film, all of the original actors have earned Oscar nominations, and that cumulative talent shows. Eisenberg maintains his typical neurotic schtick but injects it with enough naive joy to make his character endearing. Harrelson brings a chaotic bluster to Tallahassee and has many of the best jokes in the movie. Stone acts as the straight man, using her wry smirk to undercut the outsized personalities of her co-stars while getting in a few pointed jabs of her own. Breslin is given the least to do but still manages to shine in the few scenes she’s in. Together they form a great comedic ensemble. The chemistry between the actors is amazing, selling these characters as a family through their performances even when the script doesn’t.
Joining the original cast is a variety of newcomers who also do admirable jobs in their more limited roles. Rosario Dawson and Avan Jogia play potential love interests to Tallahassee and Little Rock, developing an easy rapport with the better-established characters. Luke Wilson and Thomas Middleditch show up as doppelgangers for the main cast, providing one of the funniest sequences in the film as they all try to one-up each other. The most interesting addition is Zoey Deutch as Madison, a ditzy airhead who starts dating Columbus while he’s on a break from Wichita. The jokes surrounding her character are hilarious when they focus on the juxtaposition between her sugary attitude and the hardened, cynical demeanors of the main crew, but the film falters when it reduces her to a dumb blond stereotype. It’s an easy style of joke that isn’t funny and feels like it should have been left back in 2009.
Unfortunately, with a movie like Double Tap, it’s hard not to compare it to the original and see that it doesn’t hold up. To be fair, part of this isn’t the movie’s fault, as neither the zombie genre or meta-humor are as fresh as they were in 2009, but the film also doesn’t succeed by the basic standards of the Zombieland universe. The first Zombieland worked because it combined great humor with a genuinely touching emotional core, a gleeful attitude for casual destruction, and one of the best cameos of all time. None of this is present in the sequel. The film has a reasonable number of chuckle-worthy jokes, but only a few moments that actually elicit laughter. The emotional storylines are paper-thin, incredibly predictable, and almost seem like they were put in as an afterthought. The gleeful destruction and subversiveness just feel forced. Even specific stylistic callbacks, like the slow-motion opening sequence and ironic appearance of Columbus’s rules in the background, feel stale and boring, like the filmmakers forgot what made them so much fun in the first movie. The film isn’t particularly bad—it just isn’t particularly good either.
In the end, Zombieland: Double Tap feels like what it probably is: a corporate-mandated sequel with plenty of talent but little artistic vision behind it. The performances are all good and a handful of the jokes are pretty funny, but the overall experience is mostly empty and forgettable. If you’re a fan of the first movie, there’s enough decent content in this sequel to entertain you, but it won’t live up to the experience of the original. If you aren’t a fan of the first movie, this one won’t win you over. Basically, anyone who wants to watch this movie would probably be better off just watching the first one.