Friday, June 12, 2020

Film Review: Zombieland - Double Tap

Sexuality/Nudity Mature
Violence Mature
Vulgarity Mature
Anti-Catholic Philosophy Mature

I enjoyed the heck out of the original Zombieland.  It was a fun, scary, shocking, action-packed film, reminiscent of Shaun of the Dead.  On top of that it was actually incredibly smart while being incredibly silly.  The only time I really tuned out of that first film was during the infamous "Bill Murray Scene," which had its charm and humor.  The problem was that this sequence went on way too long and the humor turned to tedium.

Unfortunately, the sequel increases, rather than decreases, these types of scenes.

Zombieland: Double Tap picks up soon after the events of the original film, even though ten years have gone by between the first and second film.  Our heroes begin the film together: we have the beta-male Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), the tough-girl Wichita (Emma Stone), here younger "sister" Little Rock (Abigail Breslin), and the crazy patriarch Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson).  At the beginning of movie, they decide to move into the White House and they settle into a kind of bland domestic bliss.  However, Little Rock is tired of being treated like a child and like wants to find people her age to spend time with.  Wichita and Columbus have settled into a romantic rut, which comes to a head when she rebuffs his proposal of marriage.  The women decide to leave the men.  Feeling abandoned, the men decide to do a little zombie hunting where they encounter the airheaded survivor Madison (Zoey Deutch), who immediately hooks up with Columbus.  This complicates things when Wichita returns to let the men know that Little Rock has run off with a hippie to some human commune called "Babylon."  So the group abandons the White House on a quest to reclaim Little Rock.  This is complicated by the fact that the zombies have evolved into a deadlier foe and danger lurks for them everywhere.

The best part of the film is the fact that the chemistry between the leads is still fantastic.  All of them play to their opposing personality types which creates fun conflicts and connections.  Underneath all of the zombie horror/comedy are the truths of human relationships between parents, children, siblings, and lovers.  Because of that, the characters and their struggles are immediately recognizable.  Since the movie shifts from comedy to horror, it must be able to turn on its head from funny to dramatic or the scares will not work.  And these actor are able to go from joking in the face of death, to turning to each other saying heart-felt final words of love before death comes to them.  

Harrelson is particularly good as Tallahassee.  His politically incorrect character is played for maximum laughs, but it never feels like the character is judged.  His rage at all things hippieish is over the top but it taps into the rage of a parent whose child is rebelling against their upbringing.  Harrelson plays him with full gusto, but that only makes us love him more.  The rest of the cast does a fine job picking up their roles from before, but there isn't much growth between films.  Deutch is a welcome addition.  Like Harrelson, she completely gives herself over to her "dumb blonde" persona, but she does so with such charisma and good humor that you can never really hate her, no matter how much she gets on your nerves.  Rosario Dawson also has a supporting part as the tough-talking Nevada.  While she isn't given much to do, she does it very well and falls into a nice rhythm with the cast.

Despite all of this, the movie drags under its own weight.  Like the "Bill Murray Scene" from the first one, the film indulges in long sequences that fail to push the story forward in any significant way.  This would be fine if these diversions were so entertaining that they become welcome pitstops on the journey.  But they go on too long and overstay their welcome.  This is particularly the case when the group encounters Albuquerque (Luke Wilson) and Flagstaff (Thomas Middleditch).  Just like the scene with Murray from the first, it is an extended sequence that diminsish its return that ultimately goes nowhere.  Not only does it drag out this particular part of the movie, but it frustrates the rest of the journey where you just want to "get through" the movie.  And this is never a feeling you should have for a good story.  

Upon reflection, most of the things that were good in this film feel like repeats of the first (with the exception of Deutch).  The final showdown feels so much like the amusement park sequence from the original that you could almost interchange them.  The movie falls into the big problem with sequels: if you make it too different, fans of the first will hate it.  But if you make it too similar, fans will wonder what the point was.  Director Ruben Fleischer has created a world where the actors clearly are having a good time, and a good deal of that translates to the audience.  But with just a little tightening of the narrative, this movie could be greatly improved.  

I would probably be game for a third trip to Zombieland, but I'm not super excited.

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