It’s been 15 years since “Dead Heist” was filmed in Wilmington. Arguably, it’s one of the most unique and entertaining zombie movies ever made—and my opinion has nothing to do with the fact I helped write the script. I have had a fascination with the zombie genre since witnessing the brilliance of the late George Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead.” I remember thinking how much I enjoyed those movies where a legion of undead creatures threaten to level society and eat our brains, and how I wanted to see more crazy-ass films featuring an army of flesh-eating foils.
Apparently, I wasn’t the only one. Shortly thereafter, the cultural zeitgeist took a hard left turn, and soon enough everything was coming up zombies: Movies, TV shows and video games emerged from the nether regions and took over the entertainment world. Now, some 10 years after “The Walking Dead” calcified our collective zombie obsession, the genre feels practically played out.
The original “Zombieland,” released in 2009, felt like the start of meta, post-modern examination of undead storytelling. The sequel, “Zombieland: Double Tap,” is like a nice bookend to frame up a decade of beating the zombie story to death.
It’s 10 years into the aftermath of an undead apocalypse where people fight zombies and are named after the places they come from. Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) is still the same neurotic plan-maker, constantly narrating the story for the audience and listing his various rules of survival. His girlfriend Wichita (Emma Stone) has settled into the White House and has a comfortable relationship with their traveling companions, Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) and Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson). It’s domestic, dystopian bliss.
Little Rock has grown up and started to crave the open road while seeking out others her own age. Wichita starts to wonder if her relationship is less a perfect match or just the best-case scenario under extremely strange circumstances. Both of them decide to ditch the boys and hightail it out of town. Columbus doesn’t handle this well and reverts deeply into his neurotic, self-deprecating everyman shtick. After being completely abandoned, he meets a perky survivor named Madison (Zoey Deutch). Cue the sitcom-level romantic-antics. At one point after Wichita returns and realizes Columbus and Madison have been making the beast with two backs, Columbus loudly declares “We were on a break!” just before eviscerating a zombie with a shotgun.
The plot for “Zombieland: Double Tap” feels like a collection of amusing moments strung together and saved by an energetic and talented cast. It’s the same tried-and-true formula that worked well for the original: brutal violence, shallow comedy. Most of the laughs come from over-the-top gags and Woody Harrelson’s unbridled performance as the world’s angriest redneck.
Besides Deutch, there are some new additions to the cast, including the always-electric Rosario Dawson and an extremely brief, highly meta appearance by Luke Wilson and Thomas Middleditch. They give us a bit that manages to feel clever without sending the movie too far up its own ass at the same time.
The film itself is as disposable as the undead creatures that hassle humanity. The story is like the most hackneyed screenwriters hammering “Ctrl+C” and “Ctrl+V” while making “cha-ching” sounds. Yet, the violent action is beautifully rendered and the cast makes the whole journey feel worthwhile. The zombie genre might be as dead as … well, you know, but
“Zombieland: Double Tap” is a fitting and ultimately entertaining declaration we’ve seen about everything this kind of creation has to offer.
It’s time to bury the zombie movie for awhile. Maybe in a few years it will dig its way out and feel fresh again.
Zombieland: Double Tap