Zombieland: Double Tap (2019)

Directed by Ruben Fleischer

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Zombieland: Double Tap runs back the original with the same types of jokes, themes of family and all around optimism that might initially feel unwelcome in a world overrun by the apocalypse and the living dead.

It feels rough in the sense that it never feels like a movie, instead just a series of bright CGI set pieces, the same studio stage with different green screen’d backgrounds.  The conflict is contrived, and the characters themselves are kind of upsetting, at least when they get their hands on the supposed drama.  When the film has nothing in mind but to make us laugh, however, that’s when it finds something like a groove.

I don’t know if it was just the theater I was in, but Jesse Eisenberg’s booming voice over simply felt off, even poorly mixed.  It’s so sudden and struggles to stitch together the sporadic story and all its immediate set ups.  Things are plugged into the script in such rapid succession that you can’t really help but see how they will all inevitably play out in the third act, a character departure here or a gifted gun there, all introduced so they can be wrapped back around when moments are dire.

But the movie isn’t about plot, it’s about excuses to make jokes.  Those come in time, particularly one entertaining sequence at Elvis Presley’s Graceland, where we’re introduced to caricatures of the Jesse Eisenberg and Woody Harrelson characters, played by Thomas Middleditch and Luke Wilson.

But the beginning and end of the film are rather tiring, playing with little earned emotion or empathy.  If anything the film is admirable simply because it insists on being so optimistic, a post-apocalypse film that refuses a grim world outlook.

Directed Ruben Fleischer said in an interview on The Ringer’s The Big Picture Podcast that an earlier draft of the sequel script was shelved because it introduced human antagonists which he noted for corrupting the sought after optimism of the story as a whole.  

What he describes sounds like the problem of The Walking Dead, a series which embraces the same pessimism this film fights against.  In that series, once the zombies become too predictable or simply boring, the story introduces wave after wave of psychopathic human antagonists.  It makes some sense, you’d imagine, that the people more like to survive are the ones who lose or have long ago lost all semblance of humanity.  They know what it takes to kill and are maybe even eager to do so.  The same skills which aid them against zombies are the ones they struggle to turn off, that sense of self-protection morphing quickly into outright violence (like the duality of John Wayne in Red River or The Seachers).

So there’s something almost radical about Zombieland: Double Tap, a bit rough around the edges to be sure but a sweet film about family in the wake of the apocalypse.  

Up Next: St. Elmo’s Fire (1985), Black Mass (2015), Notting Hill (1999)

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