The essence of the sequel transition is taking the essence of the original, maintaining it and amping it up. But what most do not tend to understand is that finding that different cadence in between the lines is what truly can make a sequel sing. For the first 2/3rds of “Zombieland: Double Tap”, the film does exactly that. Picking up 10 years after the original, the perspective really works well since most of everyone is slightly different, with the exception of Tennessee played by Woody Harrelson who, at his age, is stuck in his ways. This of course is a running joke of perspective.
From the opening credits set to Metallica on the lawn of the now abandoned White House, the film gets in while understanding how much more seasoned director Ruben Fleischer is having directed “Venom” since then. Fleischer instills a sense of fun while not worrying about too much depth which is, for the most part, welcomed. The actors know these characters enough and they are riffs on their actual personas.
Where the original “Zombieland” keyed into the idea of a theme park, this is more a road movie…not quite in the style of “Mad Max” but more in an amped up version of say “Road Trip”. But as indicated it is just in the final moments, which are not bad, that it loses a bit of steam with the ending not being as bad ass as the second act.
This intention is mostly due to Rosario Dawson who always amps up the heart but also the coolness whenever she is on screen. She lifted “Clerks 2” as an example undeniably but what she does her is provide a much needed foil to Woody’s character who is too slick (and too seasoned) to really play in that sandbox. Not to say Emma Stone and Jesse Eisenberg are not very good, they just tend to play in their own playground as well. Neither element is necessarily better yet there is such an ease to the comedy and would-be romance between Dawson and Harrelson despite whatever happens. To be honest, there is more chemistry here than that upon first glance with Harrelson and Juliette Lewis in “Natural Born Killers”. Now granted this is a comedy per but NBK was a satire as well yet one that bathed more in its own style.
Eisenberg is, as always, a variation on the nerd/hero archetype but that is turned on its head a little but with the arrival of Luke Wilson and his sidekick which looks a little too similar to someone else. This gag works very well and leads into the best executed sequence both in tone and in action.
The unsung comedy gem on the piece is Zoey Deutch as Madison who plays a girl who survived the zombies in a mall by sleeping in a refrigerator. The irony of her could have been played up much more but as is played gives the elevation of pure insanity that the film revels in.
“Zombieland: Double Tap” progresses along with a sense of style under the nature of the smorgasboard progresses. It transforms perhaps in a sense of wantonness to satire in the essence of a place of sanctuary which almost necessarily needs to be turned inside out. The film is nothing if not egregiously cheeky but in its own special way, understands its reason for being, though slight and yet undeniably enjoyable. Although it ends slightly less edgy than it begins, “Double Tap” uses it strengths to push through.
By Tim Wassberg