Thursday, April 18, 2024

‘Zombieland: Double Tap’ Drags Its Feet

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Zombieland: Double Tap is billed as a comedy, which is technically true; in the sense that people speak in a cadence which implies we should be laughing. To say I didn’t laugh while watching the film would be a lie. However, saying that I laughed throughout the film would be misleading and bordering on outright deception. 

Movies are weird and oftentimes a topsy turvy medium. Ruben Fleischer also directed the first Zombieland as well as last year’s Venom. Zombieland: Double Tap is a technically better film than Venom but yet feels as if it lasts an eternity. Strange that a movie so flawed and misshapen such as Venom would be not just a more enjoyable movie but a more interesting one as well. That Zombieland: Double Tap is so boring is impressive considering all it has going for it. 

Clearly the cast is having fun. Jesse Eisenberg is still charming and lovable as the nebbish Columbus. Emma Stone, as Wichita, effortlessly wins our hearts with her slight smirk and withering sarcasm. Woody Harrelson’s Tallahassee is every bit as entertaining as he was the first time around only older and struggling with the odd mixture of issues dealing with a fear of emotional intimacy and empty nest syndrome.

Then there’s Abigail Breslin as Little Rock. She’s older now and wishes to see the world, zombies or no zombies. Like all teenage girls, she wishes to get high, find a boy, and not settle down.

“But Mr. Sherman, what is the movie about?” Aye, there’s the rub. The script is a textbook case of “story by committee” except the studio heads took out the story stuff and left the committee bits. Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick, and David Callaham haven’t written a movie so much as a series of ideas connected by zombies and even that feels as if I’m being generous.

Zombieland: Double Tap begins with Columbus catching us up to date with everything that has happened since the first movie. Shockingly very little has happened aside from the four moving into the now-abandoned White House. Columbus and Wichita are snarkily together and Tallahassee and Little Rock have bonded more like a father and a daughter suffering from cabin fever.

Oh, and there are more zombies all with different characteristics and classifications. It’s here where Zombieland 2 begins to wobble. You see the movie goes to great lengths to make sure we understand the different types of zombies. To raise the stakes there’s even a new faster harder to kill zombie, the T-800.  Except all of this doesn’t really matter because for as much as they kill zombies there’s never any sense that the new zombies are that different from the other ones.

Yes, they are harder to kill. Yes, they are faster and supposedly smarter. But they never factor into the story in a way that is at all interesting. Heck, the climax of Zombieland: Double Tap finds a horde of T-800 zombies chasing our heroes and them defeating them by leading them off the top of a skyscraper. 

Watching Zombieland: Double Tap I found myself asking a question the movie never answers, “Why are we back here?” None of the characters have grown much and by the end, they’ve grown even less. The zombies don’t matter much no matter how much time the exposition narration spends telling us about them. Scenes flow into other scenes without any real momentum, rhyme, or reason.

Even Columbus proposing to Wichita with the Hope Diamond isn’t enough to create a narrative through-line. Wichita gets cold feet and flees, along with Little Rock. So while at a nearby mall Tallahassee and Columbus run into Madison (Zoey Deutch).

Deutch’s Madison is lovable and kind of adorable but it becomes clear that no one in the movie, much less the movie itself, likes her very much. We begin to side with and feel for Madison simply because it appears the very universe hates her. 

Madison is vain, yes. I would venture to say even shallow, possibly. But she’s as alone, afraid, and resourceful as the rest of the team. Columbus is the first warm body she’s seen since the apocalypse and so she is understandably eager to get to know him. So when Wichita returns after, herself, being ditched by Little Rock, she is a little pissed at Columbus. But she is also angry at Madison; which is somewhat understandable.

Except for Wichita, and even Columbus to some extent, are just mean. Sarcasm is the bedrock of the Zombieland movies. But Madison cuts through niceties by stating how not nice they are being to her. The movie so hates Madison that when she is thought to be bitten it is one of the rare cases where we’re not supposed to feel sorry for somewhat about to either be killed or turned into a zombie.

Meanwhile, Little Rock is traveling the country with Berkeley (Avan Jogia), a pot-smoking hipster, who plays Bob Dylan songs but claims he wrote them. A fact Little Rock is happy to believe if it means finding some release of her own. All of this may sound amusing enough but Zombieland: Double Tap lacks any kind of real emotion aside from cynical disdain. It works in the first one back when the cinematic landscape was all but festering with zombie movies but in 2019 they are few and in between. 

For a post-apocalyptic movie Zombieland: Double Tap is oddly puritanical about sex. Madison tells Wichita that she and Columbus are dating because they’ve had sex. Little Rock and Berkeley are dating because they want to have sex. Tallahassee finally finds someone in Nevada (Rosario Dawson) but gets jealous when another lover of her’s, Albuquerque (Luke Wilson), shows up. Have Fleischer and his writers never heard of polyamory? 

I buy the premise that surviving the zombie apocalypse would leave one more than a little horny but, even if we forgive the movie’s outdated traditionalist views on sex, it’s tragically straight as well. I’m not asking for orgies or even nudity, but surely if the dead are rising we can at least progress to one night stands? Granted this is a critique we could lob at any zombie apocalypse movie. But it feels especially ripe for Zombieland: Double Tap considering how much of the movie they spend looking for and asking for sex. 

Rosario Dawson is a treasure and Fleischer and his writers give her nothing to do except to stare at Tallahassee longingly. Stone’s Wichita spends the movie angry and “bitter” that some hussy has “stolen” her man. Little Rock wishes to both run away and experience some adolescent hedonism while demanding Tallahassee see her as an adult. 

The men, on the other hand, spend the movie happy and satisfied. Rampant sexism and myopic heterosexuality are only part of why Zombieland 2 feels interminable. If the movie had been even a little funny, if its characters said anything remotely interesting, or was the least bit self-aware, maybe it could have accidentally engaged with these issues or any issues.

Berkeley and Little Rock find themselves at Babylon, a hippie gun-free communal paradise, walled off from the zombies. Once you enter your guns and ammunition are taken, melted down, and forged into peace symbols. A gun-free paradise is, I’ll admit, a novel idea for a genre which all but demands some kind of weaponry. When the zombie horde stumbles upon the paradise they defeat them without guns but Fleischer and his writers never quite connect the dots.

As a joke, it never works but it’s not aimed at one side or the other. As a narrative device, it’s feeble because we never really explore Babylon. It feels more like a plot device rather than a real place. Not to mention it’s odd that a bunch of people would come together amidst an apocalypse and yet have no way of dealing with the eventuality of the zombie horde rushing them.

Zombieland: Double Tap is confused with what it wants to do and bored by its own existence. The actors try their best and succeed in spite of an inept and vapid script. But Fleischer seems adrift and unsure what to do with it all. Sometimes seeing the actors have fun isn’t enough. After all, we’d like to have fun too. A fact the movie seems to have forgotten about.

Image courtesy of Sony Pictures Releasing

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