'Zombieland 2: Double Tap' sticks to its guns 

click to enlarge Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Abigail Breslin, and Emma Stone in Zombieland: Double Tap.

Jessica Miglio/Sony Pictures

Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Abigail Breslin, and Emma Stone in Zombieland: Double Tap.

The last time we visited Zombieland was in 2009. At the time, the movie captured pop culture attention with a fresh take on a genre we'd seen a thousand times before. Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) represented the millions of us who have all thought about how we would survive the zombie apocalypse. After all the movies, comics, conventions, and TV shows, everyone knows what a zombie is and how to beat them. Zombieland had rules for survival that worked: cardio, beware of bathrooms, and always double tap. It was simple, but effective entertainment.

Ten years and 10 seasons of The Walking Dead later, with a slew of newer, fresher, takes on zombies in pop culture, the first question is if Zombieland's formula holds up a second time. Fans of the original will find familiar comfort with more of the same, but not much else to sink your teeth into.

Written by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick of tonally similar Deadpool and Deadpool 2, Zombieland: Double Tap doubles down on everything that made the first installment great, for better or worse: clever and raunchy humor, over-the-top gore, fourth-wall breaking, and a cast of eccentric characters with impeccable comedic timing. The apocalyptic backdrop only serves to contrast with the upbeat attitudes of the survivors. The narrative picks up where the first film ended, and follows the same rhythm as before.

The zombie-killing foursome are starting to chafe against the makeshift domestic life they created in '09. Wichita (Emma Stone) is struggling to commit to her relationship with Columbus, and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) wants to escape the overbearing parental role Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson) has taken on. A goodbye note is left, and Tallahassee and Columbus load up for another road trip to put the family back together again.

Along the way they meet a new cast of characters whose sole purpose is to serve for bad sketch comedy. Zoey Deutch plays the air-headed Madison, who serves as a sexist nerd fantasy more than a real person, and Avan Jogia is pacifist Berkeley, who's just there to make Tallahassee yell angrily about hippies. Both have no explanation for how they actually managed to survive a zombie apocalypse, and like all the other unexplainable plot holes, Double Tap just wants us to laugh, not ask questions.

Indeed just about the only way the story moves forward is through characters stumbling their way from plot point A to B without any protection or sense of direction. Double Tap relies solely on references to its predecessor, desperately bringing up the same pop culture quips as before, with another Bill Murray cameo, who once again plays a fictionalized version of himself. Even the previous film's "Zombie Kill of the Week" fourth-wall-breaking gag has been shamelessly upgraded to "Zombie Kill of the Year," because if it ain't broke why fix it?

This mentality doesn't create a bad movie. Zombieland: Double Tap lands a few zingers and fresh jokes on American subcultures like Gen Z kids and diehard Elvis fans. The film's self-referential formula isn't stale yet, but it raises the question of why a sequel even needed to be made. The core cast are all successful actors in their own rights, and the writers have a history of projects outside of Zombieland. But after 10 years, did we really need to go back just to listen to the same rules be explained, hear the same catchphrases, and see the same bonds between characters re-form?

Zombieland: Double Tap is as entertaining as the first film, if completely redundant. The zombie apocalypse can still be a place to have fun, but take a cue from the snarling mindless hordes and lose your brain for the screening.

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