One of the few remaining interesting things about zombies these days is their continued popularity among gun nuts, doomsday preppers, and survivalists. If every era gets the zombie movies they deserve — representing fear of nuclear annihilation in the 60s, commercialism in 80s, etc. — 2010s-era zombies seem to be our kitschy way of defanging genuine fears about societal collapse. They give us a chance to explore apocalyptic scenaria in a way that’s cutesy and fun instead of anxious and paranoid. Which is probably why so many modern zombie stories take the form of comedy and bumper sticker kitsch. As a group of survivalists who built a “zombie-proof farm” outside Budapest put it, they foresaw “a bleak future where human infrastructure would fall apart, and people start killing each other for food.”
All of this is to say that there was at least an outside possibility that Zombieland: Double Tap, the 10-years-too-late sequel to 2009’s Zombieland (both from director Ruben Fleischer) could’ve been relevant, funny, or compelling. Instead, it’s a joyless exercise in pop-culture regurgitation. It’s an impressive collection of dialogue that sounds punchy and has the general shape and snarky mouthfeel of jokes without managing genuine laughs.
To get us all caught up, this sequel takes place ten years after the original, which took place just after a zombie apocalypse. The survivors all took up place names as a way not to get too attached to each other, and the principals of the last movie — Columbus, played by Jesse Eisenberg, his sort-of girlfriend Wichita, played by Emma Stone, rowdy cowboy father figure Tallahassee, played by Woody Harrelson, and Wichita’s little sister, Little Rock (Abigail Breslin from Little Miss Sunshine, all growed up) — have all taken up residence in a zombie-proofed White House.
They live as a family, and Columbus calls it some of the happiest times of his life (his character provides voiceover from time to time, to give a bit of structure to this lifeless plot). But trouble is afoot. Columbus wants to marry Wichita, but she’s terrified of becoming a boring wife (“Married people only do one thing: they get divorced,” she tells Columbus). Little Rock has become a woman without seeing a boy her age since before puberty. Truly there isn’t a plotline in Double Tap that hasn’t shown up as a B-storyline in at least 10 sitcoms. Soon the girls have flown the coop and the boys are off after them, reprising their painfully on-the-nose alpha male/beta male buddy act, all with the occasional zombie kill.
I was trying to remember verbatim examples of how groaningly unfunny Double Tap‘s writing is, but most of the actual dialogue evaporated the moment it hit my brain. It just washes over you like a procession of empty commerce, the feeling of walking through a gift shop just as a powerful edible kicks in. Columbus and Tallahassee meet a blonde bimbo named Madison (Zoey Deutch) at the mall, where she’s been living in a freezer inside a Pinkberry. Imagine “blonde bimbo” and you have the entirety of her character. Sex-starved from living in a freezer, she and Columbus hook up, and you’ll never guess who shows up right after. I’m kidding, you know exactly who shows up right after. It’s the kind of story “twist” you’d write if a gang of terrorists had hung you upside down and started poking you with sticks demanding to know what happens next.
Madison annoys Tallahassee. “You don’t get a vote,” Tallahassee tells her. “Uh, yeah I do. Haven’t you heard of women’s suffering?” she asks.
Little Rock ends up running off with some guy named Berkeley, who is, get this, an insufferable hippie. The movie even has him pick up an acoustic guitar and sing Kumbaya at one point, like the actual song Kumbaya, just to give you an example of how unafraid Zombieland: Double Tap is of puking up the most unoriginal hack drivel. It is a treat for lovers of unadorned cliché.
At one point, Luke Wilson and Thomas Middleditch show up as Columbus and Tallahassee’s eerie dopplegangers, Flagstaff and Albuquerque. And boy, it turns out that the only thing more grating than one nebbish beta male smugly recounting his survival “rules” is two nebbishy beta males smugly comparing them. In fact, one of the few benefits of living in 2019 vs. 2009 is that it seems pop-culture gatekeepers are finally abandoning the idea that people want to be lectured by their computery socially awkward alabaster nephewlings (Verizon and Sprint are going to come around any day now, I can feel it…).