Saturday, October 26, 2019

It Came From The Cineplex: Zombieland: Double Tap

Zombieland: Double Tap was written by Dave Callaham, Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick. It was directed by Ruben Fleisher.

Callaham previously wrote Doom, Horsemen, Tell Tale, The Expendables and Godzilla (2014). Now that's a checkered resume!

Reese started out in kids' films, as he previously wrote Dinosaur, Monsters, Inc. and Clifford's Really Big Movie. At some point Reese and Wernick became working partners, and co-wrote Zombieland, G.I. Joe: Retaliation, Deadpool, Life and Deadpool 2. Again, talk about uneven work!

Fleischer has primarily worked in TV. On the theatrical side, he previously directed Zombieland, 30 Minutes Or Less, Gangster Squad (!) and Venom.

Wow. With a pedigree like that, it's a wonder that the Zombieland films turned out as well as they did. In fact I'm surprised they even stuck to the film!

I liked the original Zombieland quite a bit. It's not my favorite by any means, but it's solid little film whose strength lies in its stripped-down simplicity. I also enjoyed the fun, easy chemistry between Woody Harrelson and Jesse Eisenberg, whose antagonistic relationship is the highlight of the film.

It seemed like a nice one & done story though, as everything was wrapped up at the end in a nice bow. As with most films, it didn't need a sequel.

That's never stopped Hollywood before though. The instant the original film cleared $100 million at the box office, talks of a sequel began. Unfortunately Zombieland 2 was stuck firmly in Development Hell for years. Ten years, in fact!

So what was the problem? The first film was a box office and financial success why'd it take an entire decade to get the sequel off the ground? Most likely it was a case of money. Zombieland was made for a paltry $23 million dollars. If I had to guess, I'd bet the four leads probably made a million each. Two million, tops.

But that was in the before time. In the ten years since, the four main actors have all risen in prominence and become Oscar nominees (and winners, in the case of Emma Stone). They now all regularly pull down huge salaries, which was likely a problem for the Sony bean counters. Apparently it took ten years to work out deals that satisfied everyone.

As a general rule, sequels that take more than two or three years to come out are almost always terrible. Luckily that's not the case here. Zombieland: Double Tap is every bit as good as the original. Like the first film, there's nothing groundbreaking on display here just a tightly-written, well made and entertaining little film. It's a rare case of a sequel that doesn't embarrass itself.

So far Zombieland: Double Tap has grossed a mild $44 million worldwide against its $42 million budget. The original raked in $102 million worldwide against its minute $23 million budget, so the sequel has a ways to go before it equals or passes the original. It might hit the $100 million mark before it's all over, but it's unlikely it'll make much more than that. I'm surprised by the sequel's lackluster box office, as I thoroughly enjoyed it. I'm assuming the critically-acclaimed but no-fun Joker is siphoning money away from it.


The Plot:
We open on Columbus (played by Jesse Eisenberg) catching us up on what's been happening in Zombieland for the past ten years. It seems the zombies have been "evolving" over time, into three distinct groups: Homers— who are slow, fat and stupid, Hawkings— who have rudimentary intelligence and can figure things out, and Ninjas— sneaky, incredibly fast ones who strike without warning.

We also see that Columbus and Wichita (played by Emma Stone) are finally a real couple, while Tallahassee (played by Woody Harrelson) sees himself as a father figure to Little Rock (played by Abigail Breslin). Unfortunately Little Rock resents his over-protectiveness, as she yearns to find other survivors her own age— in other words, she's horny.

The four make their way to Washington DC, where they begin living it up inside the White House. They have an early Xmas, and Tallahassee gives Little Rock a Colt .45 (the same one Elvis gave to Nixon). This upsets her greatly, as she's tired of killing zombies and wants something more out of life.

That night, Columbus proposes to Wichita by giving her the Hope Diamond as a wedding ring. She's totally blindsided by this, saying it's not a good idea to get too attached to anyone in Zombieland.

Columbus wakes the next day and discovers the two sisters have left, taking Tallahassee's customized "The Beast" vehicle with them. Columbus is devastated that Wichita left him without even saying goodbye, while Tallahassee's furious that the girls stole his ride.

Sometime later, the guys explore and abandoned mall. They discover Madison, a dumb blonde who's been surviving inside the shopping center for years. They take her back to the White House, where she seduces Columbus and has sex with him. Meanwhile, Wichita and Little Rock meet Berkeley, a young hippie with long flowing hair and a guitar. Little Rock's smitten and invites him to join them, much to Wichita's chagrin.

A month passes. One night the guys hear a noise in the White House, and discover Wichita's come back, allegedly for supplies. She tells them that Little Rock took The Beast and ran off with Berkeley, which greatly distresses Tallahassee. He announces they'll all head out to find her and bring her back at first light. Columbus and Wichita then have a heartfelt reconciliation— which is of course ruined when Madison wanders downstairs and asks when Columbus is coming back to bed. D'oh!

The next day the four head out in search of Little Rock. Tallahassee refuses to ride in Wichita's minivan, so they hunt for a more suitable vehicle. They run into a nest of zombies, and Madison— who of course has no firearm skills— is almost bitten on the foot. The others easily wipe out the herd. Suddenly another zombie approaches— one who's seemingly immune to bullets, making it extremely hard to kill. They realize they've just discovered a new type of mutated zombie, which Columbus dubs a "T-800."

Meanwhile, Little Rock & Berkeley are driving in The Beast while smoking weed. He sings "original" compositions for her, which are just old Bob Dylan songs he claims he wrote. She tells him she's always wanted to see Graceland, and Berkeley happily agrees to take her there.

Elsewhere, Columbus, Tallahassee, Wichita and Madison are crammed into the minivan, searching for Little Rock. Wichita can't stand the air-headed Madison, and constantly snipes at Columbus for sleeping with her. Wichita shares some trail mix with Madison, who begins showing signs of zombie infection. They slam on the brakes, as Madison runs into the woods and vomits. They realize she must have been bitten on the foot after all, and Tallahassee tells Columbus he knows what he needs to do.

Columbus reluctantly follows Madison into the woods, where she's still vomiting and growling. He seemingly shoots her in the head (twice!) and returns stone-faced to the van.

The three make it to Graceland, but discover it in ruins, which devastates Tallahassee (who's a big Elvis fan). They drive off and come to the Hound Dog Motel and spot The Beast parked out front. They enter the Elvis-themed motor lodge, looking for Little Rock. They're confronted by Nevada (played by Rosario Dawson), who lives there. She tells them Little Rock & Berkeley were there, but took off that morning— inexplicably leaving The Beast behind. Tallahassee and Nevada then bond over their shared love of The King.

Meanwhile, Berkeley and Little Rock are on the road again. He tells her he's taking her to Babylon, a magical walled-off hippie commune that's completely free of zombies. They eventually arrive there, and a guard tells Little Rock that Babylon has a strict no-weapons policy and she'll have to give up her guns. She happily does so, and her weapons are melted down into peace symbol medallions (oy).

The next day at the Hound Dog, a massive monster truck roars up and crushes The Beast. Albuquerque (played by Luke Wilson) and Flagstaff (played by Thomas Middleditch) climb down out of the truck, and we see they're doppelgangers of Tallahassee and Columbus. Naturally Tallahassee and Albuquerque butt heads with one another, but Columbus and Flagstaff get along great, as they both have their own set of rules (or "commandments," in Flagstaff's case).

Suddenly the Hound Dog's attacked by a pack of T-800s. There's a big action setpiece as the characters run around the hotel attempting to kill the unstoppable zombies. Eventually they manage to defeat them, but both Albuquerque and Flagstaff are bitten. They begin to turn, and Talahassee smashes Albuquerque's head with a guitar, while Nevada kills Flagstaff.

Columbus, Tallahassee and Wichita then leave for Babylon (wait, how do they know about that?) while Nevada stays behind. On the road they pass an ice cream truck, driven by Madison. She explains she wasn't turning into a zombie, she was just having an allergic reaction to the nuts Wichita gave her. Fortunately Columbus fired over her head "to scare her away."

Madison joins the group, and they eventually make their way to Babylon. Tallahassee's furious at having to give up his weapons and see them melted down (couldn't he have just left them in the van?). They find Little Rock, who seems less than happy to see them. Tallahassee's less than thrilled to see her paired up with Berkeley, but realizes she's grown up, is capable of making her own decisions and seems happy. He announces it's time he was on his own again, and hits the road.

A few miles later Tallahassee runs into a herd of T-800s, who're attracted to Babylon by the fireworks they're setting off. Realizing the inhabitants are all sitting ducks without weapons, he turns around and heads back.

Inside Babylon, Tallahassee goes all Army Of Darkness, showing the hippies how to fight zombies without weapons. They set up various flame traps and shows the group how to protect themselves with shields and other makeshift weapons.

Our heroes knock down the main gate, and the T-800s pour through. They light their traps, and within seconds the horde is engulfed in flames. A fuel tank explodes, seemingly obliterating the zombies. Amazingly they're completely unharmed and get back up. Columbus, Tallahassee, Wichita and Little Rock climb atop a platform, and are instantly surrounded. They realize there's no way out this time, and hug one another as they accept their fate.

Suddenly the late Albuquerque's monster truck roars over the wall, driven by Nevada. The others jump into the truck, and she runs over dozens of T-800s and mashes them flat. Unfortunately she turns too sharply and flips over the truck.

The group runs to the top of the giant tower in the center of Babylon, with the zombie horde following closely behind. Once at the top, they see the hippies have formed a narrow gauntlet with their makeshift shields. Columbus, Wichita & Nevada duck behind the shields, while Tallahassee lures the T-800s through the gauntlet. He leaps off the edge of the building and grabs onto a large hook that's hanging down from somewhere, swinging out into space. The T-800s recklessly follow, running off the side of the building and plunging to their "deaths" far below.

Everyone celebrates, but then two zombie stragglers appear and grab onto Tallahassee's leg. Just as they're about to pull him off, Little Rock whips out her .45 and shoots them, causing them to fall. Columbus pulls Tallahassee to safety. They all look questioningly at Little Rock, who says she wasn't about to melt down her favorite gun.

Later on, Little Rock breaks up with Berkeley, who immediately goes for Madison. Nevada opens up and reveals her "name" is actually Reno, and she and Tallahassee hook up. Wichita finally accepts Columbus' proposal. The five hit the road for parts unknown, as Columbus realizes they don't need to search for a home, because they're a family.

In the mid-credits scene, we see a flashback to Day Zero of the zombie apocalypse. Bill Murray's at a press junket for Garfield 3, when Al Roker begins vomiting and turns into a zombie. Murray mashes his head with a chair, then sees the entire facility is filled with zombies.

• The most surprising thing about Zombieland: Double Tap? It's a Sony movie, but it's somehow good!

I guess if you swing at the ball several thousand times, you're bound to hit a homer eventually.

Speaking of hitting homers, one of the best parts of the film occurs right after the dreaded Sony logo appears. Columbia, the torch-wielding symbol of Columbia Pictures, fades in. Suddenly she's attacked by two zombies, and uses her torch and some sweet defensive moves to dispatch them. 

• It's been a decade since the original Zombieland premiered. According to Columbus, ten years have passed for the characters as well. But has it really though? It all depends on how old Little Rock is supposed to be.

Her age is never explicitly stated in this movie, but at the beginning she's started to feel horny and wants to find other survivors her own age. That would imply she's probably eighteen or so. If that's true, then she would have been just eight in the first movie, and that clearly wasn't the case. 

Little Rock looked to be about twelve or thirteen in Zombieland. That would make her twenty three in this movie— which coincidentally is actress Abigail Breslin's current age. But twenty three seems a bit long in the tooth to be acting like an undersexed teen. It also makes it extra creepy when you realize Tallahassee consistently calls a twenty three year old "Little Girl."

So take your pick— it's been ten years and Little Rock is an emotionally stunted adult, or it's been less than a decade and she's a normal acting teen.

• Speaking of Abigail Breslin, was there some sort of problem with her in this film? She's featured heavily in the first ten or fifteen minutes, then promptly disappears until the third act.

Was she only available for a week or two? Does she not get along with her co-stars? I just find it odd that she was barely in the film and had such minimal interaction with the other actors.

• One version of the Zombieland: Double Tap poster is an homage/recreation of the original. With the exception of Abigail Breslin, the cast has changed very little of the past ten years. 

Based on Little Rock's look here, she's obviously discovered a large stash of cosmetic and hair products in their travels!

Zombieland was originally meant to be a TV series, but no network wanted to touch it due to its horror elements and over the top violence (this was a year before The Walking Dead premiered on AMC). So the writers simply too the property and adapted it into an R-rated film. 

As originally intended, each episode of the series would have featured a segment titled "The Zombie Kill Of The Week." For some reason, even after it was decided to turn Zombieland into a film, the writers kept that particular bit in the script, which explains why it's in both movies.

• The state of Georgia owes a massive debt of gratitude to zombies. Both of the Zombieland movies were filmed there, as well as all ten seasons of The Walking Dead! If it weren't for zombie movies and TV series, the entire state's economy may very well have collapsed a decade ago.

• In most zombie movies, the undead are shambling corpses who hunt and kill through primitive instinct. The ones populating the Zombieland movies are different though. Some of them like the Hawkings, for example have actually developed a rudimentary intelligence, and can even think and plan. 

Other zombies, like the T-800s, have actually begun to mutate and evolve, becoming impervious to bullets. 

This would indicate that the Zombieland zombies aren't really dead. After all, they can't change or improve themselves if all their bodily functions have ceased. Maybe they exist in some middle state between living and dead?

• How do ALL the survivors in Zombieland automatically know to use their hometowns as nicknames? I could see people adopting that practice in one small region, but nationwide? I don't think so.

It's doubly unlikely when you consider the fact that this is a non-"wired" world— one with no internet, texting or any other means of long distance communication.

By the way, I always wondered why Wichita and Little Rock don't both have the same nickname. I guess their family must have moved around a lot, and they were born in different cities?

• There's a scene in the second trailer that didn't make it into the final film. 

Tallahassee sits in the Oval Office, his feet up on the desk. He takes a large cigar from a wooden box, puts it in his mouth and says, "I think I would have made a damn fine president." As Wichita leaves the room she throws a look over her shoulder and says, "I think those cigars are from the Clinton administration." Tallahassee pulls the cigar out and gives it a sour, disgusted look. He then shrugs and sticks it back in his mouth.

Yep, it's a Monica Lewinsky joke! Timely! Ask your parents what it means, kids.

• Some fun attention to detail— when Tallahassee gives Little Rock her Xmas gift, he admits he cut up an oil painting of President Taft and used the canvas as wrapping paper.

A bit Columbus and Wichita argue in a hallway, and in the background you can see a painting with a huge square cut out of it— obviously the Taft portrait Tallahassee referenced!

• I was pleasantly surprised to see that Columbus and Wichita are now a couple, and seemingly have been for some time. We already got a healthy dose of their "Will They Or Won't They" schtick in the first film, so it would have been extremely tedious if they'd continued it here.

• At one point Columbus and Wichita have a discussion in front of an Obama "HOPE" poster. It's been established that the zombie apocalypse began in 2009, the year the first film was released. That means it took place just one year into President Obama's first term. Civilization pretty much stopped at that point, so in this alternate reality, America never elected a bloated rotten pumpkin as Mad Emperor. Those lucky, lucky people who live in Zombieland!

• After their Xmas celebration, Columbus and Wichita lie in bed reading. Columbus pores over a copy of The Walking Dead comic, claiming that it's "really terrifying, but totally unrealistic." Shots fired!

The issue he's reading is number 27, which contains the first appearance of the Governor. For the record, this particular issue was published in 2006, three years before the zombie apocalypse began in this world. So it's entirely possible that Columbus could have stumbled across it! Well done, guys!

• Columbus proposes to Wichita by giving her the world famous Hope Diamond.

The Hope Diamond is currently on display in the National Museum Of Natural History in Washington, DC, so it's plausible that Columbus could have scavenged it from there and given it to Wichita.

In reality though the diamond is pendant, not a ring. Whoops!

• Glad to see that even after ten years, Tallahassee's still painting large "3s" on the sides of his vehicles (that's a Dale Earnhardt reference, for all you non-NASCAR fans).

• Kudos to actress Zoey Deutch as Madison, the air-headed dumb blonde who steals every scene she's in. She did an amazing job, and was a worthy addition to the cast.

By the way, Madison may not be quite as dumb as she appears. At one point she tells the others that before the zombie apocalypse, she had an idea for a business in which you'd call up a stranger to give you a ride. Because according to her, the taxi industry is seriously flawed.

The others all laugh at her "preposterous" idea, sarcastically saying that riding with a stranger sounds like a great idea, and nothing could ever go wrong in a situation like that.

The joke of course is that Madison just invented Uber, which, due to the end of the world, never existed in this universe. I don't think this joke got the recognition it deserved, as no one in my screening so much as chuckled at it (except for me).

By the way, in our world Uber began in March of 2009. So technically this joke is possible, but just barely!

• Tallahassee and Columbus bust into a nearby mall to destroy stuff and blow off steam. While there, Columbus enters a candle shop so he can enjoy some pleasant odors for a few minutes. This brings up something I've been saying about The Walking Dead for years the zombie apocalypse would likely smell really, really bad!

• In the original Zombieland, I wondered how the power could still be on even after civilization fell. Oddly enough, the power's STILL on in Zombieland: Double Tap a whole ten years later!

Obviously that's just not possible. The writers realized this as well, so they lampshaded the problem by offering a half-baked solution. When Columbus first meets Madison, he says, "I know, it's amazing. As long as it keeps raining, the dams keep giving us power."

Yeah, I don't think so. You'd still need people to run and maintain the turbines, generators and power plants, but... eh. At least they paid lip service to the problem. I'll allow it.

• One of my least favorite parts of this film is the Doppelganger Scene. Sometime after holing up in The Hound Dog Motel, the gang meets two very recognizable survivors, ones who share quite a familiar relationship with one another. Of course neither Columbus or Tallahassee are able to see the resemblance.

So what the hell was the point of this scene? I get it— the movie's riffing on the identical Doppelganger Scene in Shaun Of The Dead. But... why? 

The Shaun scene lasted well under a minute, which was the perfect length. It was a brief little visual gag, that came and went without any fanfare. The Zombieland 2 Doppelganger Scene goes on and on for a good fifteen or twenty minutes of screentime, overstaying its welcome and then some.

That's not how you do an homage, guys. You make your little tribute and then move on. You don't drag it out for half the runtime and make it an integral part of the story! I seriously am baffled by this whole scene and why the writers thought it was a good idea.

By the way, the doppelgangers are named Albuquerque and Flagstaff. In the first draft of the Zombieland script, those were the original names for the characters who eventually became Tallahassee and Columbus. No idea why they were changed at the last minute.

Also by the way, director Ruben Fleisher originally wanted actor Michael Cera to play Flagstaff, citing the fact that he and Jesse Eisenberg are often mistaken for one another. Despite the fact that I hate this scene, that would have been perfect casting! Unfortunately Cera declined the role, most likely because he didn't want to exacerbate the recognizability problem. Thomas Middleditch was an inspired substitute, and was able to pull off a pretty good Jesse Eisenberg impression.

• There are several other nods to various zombie movies as well. The notion of zombies being attracted to fireworks is a reference to George Romero's Land Of The Dead. And Tallahassee teaching the peace-loving inhabitants of Babylon how to fight is taken directly from Army Of Darkness.

• I liked this movie quite a bit, but I have to admit it didn't really accomplish much, and was ultimately pointless. At the end of the film, the characters are driving along in Elvis' pink Fleetwood Cadillac, and Tallahassee asks where they should go next. Columbus says, "Home." When Tallahassee asks where exactly that is, Columbus says home isn't a place, but the people you're with, and they're already there.

Yeah, that's a nice little sentiment, but it was already established at the end of the first movie. when the four original characters declared themselves a family. Stay tuned for Zombieland 3 in 2029, in which the characters learn this same lesson yet again.

Also, as they're driving along we see that Columbus and Wichita have reconciled, and Tallahassee's found love with Reno. Poor Little Rock has no one, as sits alone in the front seat. The entire goddamned plot of the movie was driven by her desire to find a significant other! And yet at the end of the movie she's in the exact same place in which she started alone. That seemed like lazy writing to me.

• The movie ends with a scene featuring Bill Murray. Ugh. His meta cameo in Zombieland was my least favorite part of that film, and the same goes for his appearance here.

This is gonna be an unpopular opinion, but I cannot stand Bill Murray. In fact I'd go so far as to say I loathe him. 

Why do I hate him so? One word: Ghostbusters. For three decades, Dan Aykroyd tried desperately to get Ghostbusters 3 off the ground. Columbia Pictures wasn't interested in bankrolling a sequel unless Murray was involved.

Aykroyd would then beg, cajole and plead with his friend to please appear in the film. Over the years Murray would refuse, then agree, refuse again, agree but only under special conditions, and ultimately refuse again. It was maddening.

Then tragically, actor Harold Ramis died, making the prospect of a sequel pointless. Who wants to see a Ghostbusters movie without Egon in it?

Then after it was too late to ever get the entire cast back together, Murray finally agreed to return for the execrable Ghostbusters 2016. Are you fraking kidding me? He refuses to appear in a proper sequel, but happily jumps at the chance to appear in that dreck?

F*ck Bill Murray, and the horse he rode in on. I hate him and the sooner he retires from acting, the better.

Zombieland: Double Tap is a worthy entry in the franchise, and a rare case of a sequel that's just as good as the original. It's not a great film, but it's solid and entertaining, which is far more than I can say for the vast majority of films I've seen this year. I enjoyed it quite a bit. Ten years ago when I reviewed the original Zombieland, I gave it a much, much too enthusiastic A. While I like that film as well, that's way too high a score. It's probably closer to a B. Which is what I'm giving Zombieland: Double Tap. A nice respectable B.

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