'Zombieland: Double Tap': Film Review

About as fun as the first, though making it a trilogy would be a stretch.

Emma Stone, Jesse Eisenberg and Woody Harrelson return, joined by new traveler Zoey Deutch, in Ruben Fleischer's decade-later sequel.

Ruben Fleischer's Zombieland: Double Tap opens with a gentle bit of fourth-wall breaking, in which our narrator and protagonist Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) acknowledges that we viewers have many options when it comes to zombie entertainment, and he's grateful we've chosen to return to his particular apocalypse. It's as if screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, who since penning 2009's Zombieland had two money-minting adventures with Deadpool (they're joined for this sequel by co-writer Dave Callaham), hope some of that film's wink-and-nudge magic will rub off here. But Eisenberg is no Ryan Reynolds, and the pic largely abandons this tack. Why shouldn't it, when there's plenty of fun to be had giving us more of what it dished up a decade ago?

Rounding up all the original's stars and throwing several more surviving human characters into the mix, the pic is plenty entertaining for those of us who, paradoxically, find zombies comforting in dark times. Few of its new ingredients are home runs, and some elements play out like obligations — especially the romantic travails of Columbus and the restless woman (Emma Stone's Wichita) he loves. But with The Walking Dead threatening to lurch onward until every bit of appeal falls off its bones, and with George Romero gone to the mysterious ghoulish beyond, taking another road trip with this crew is certainly worth a fan's time.

We meet up with the last film's quartet around the time they decide to set up camp in the White House. Since America pretty much ended for them in 2009, there are no jokes to be made about that house's current real-world occupant and the zombie hordes who support him. Instead, our heroes amuse themselves with the rare art and artifacts (Van Goghs, ceremonial swords, space capsules) to be found in the national archives. Columbus even finds the Hope Diamond, and uses it to ask Wichita to marry him. (You may recall that Zombieland characters are all known by the names of the places they're from.) As he really ought to predict, Wichita flees that very night while he's sleeping, taking her kid sister Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) and leaving a skimpy note of apology.

Nearly a month later, Columbus' grief is testing the patience of his remaining pal, the gruff Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson). And just as viewers start worrying that Harrelson will have to shoulder the pic's comedic heavy lifting all by himself, a miracle occurs: While raiding a mall for scented candles (those perfumes don't stink as much as a town full of rotting corpses), Columbus meets Zoey Deutch's Madison.

Bubbly, brainless and suffering a terminal case of vocal fry, Madison might well have been a throwaway dumb-blonde caricature. But Deutch brings her to life, scoring laugh after laugh while the film maneuvers her into position as a foil for Harrelson.

Clad in pink velour and horny after years of stuck-in-a-mall solitude, Madison quickly gets Columbus into the Lincoln bedroom and pounces on him. Whereupon Wichita returns to 1600 Penn. Ave., makes snide observations about how quickly her erstwhile suitor has moved on and tells the fellas that Little Rock has gone AWOL with a boy they met on the road. Assuming a dad-like protectiveness, Tallahassee fairly shoots steam from his ears when he learns that this dude (Avan Joglia's Berkeley) is not just a pacifist, but a musician. Time to assemble a rescue posse.

A fair number of surprises await the travelers as they drive cross-country, fighting zombies that now come in several varieties: slow, fast, smart and near-indestructible. The most enjoyable of these surprises all revolve, as so many things do, around Elvis Presley. Trailing Little Rock to the vicinity of Graceland, our heroes meet a woman whose love for The King rivals Tallahassee's: Rosario Dawson's Nevada has a couple of friends who are good for a few laughs, but she's mostly here to remind Tallahassee that there are still things left in the world besides guns, booze and heavily armored cars. As Dawson tends to do, she makes more of the role than the filmmakers could reasonably have hoped for.

The origial film's action led to an amusement park. This time, we get a place even further divorced from reality: Babylon, a hippie commune where newcomers must leave their guns at the door. (They're actually melted down into peace-symbol amulets.) The last act, though sometimes quite exciting, suffers somewhat from a willingness to repeat what was dubious in the first pic — and also to revisit that film's strokes of brilliance, offering a case study in diminishing returns. When closing narration includes words to the effect of "until next time," even viewers who have fully enjoyed themselves may hope it's an empty promise. Though those behind a certain comic book turned TV juggernaut seem to feel otherwise, sometimes the undead, having given us our money's worth, should be allowed to shuffle offscreen to rest for eternity.

Production company: Pariah
Distributor: Columbia Pictures
Cast: Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, Abigail Breslin, Rosario Dawson, Zoey Deutch, Luke Wilson, Thomas Middleditch, Avan Jogia
Director: Ruben Fleischer
Screenwriters: Dave Callaham, Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick
Producer: Gavin Polone
Executive producers: Doug Belgrad, David Bernad, Ruben Fleischer
Director of photography: Chung-hoon Chung
Production designer: Martin Whist
Costume designer: Christine Wada
Editors: Chris Patterson, Dirk Westervelt
Composer: David Sardy
Casting director: John Papsidera

Rated R, 99 minutes