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Zombieland: Double Tap (2019)::rating::3::rating::3

For filmmakers, sequels are a paradoxical blend of low-risk and sheer ballsiness:  Sure, you have a built-in audience, but there’s also the prospect of souring everything that everybody loved about the original.  If the first Zombieland was a home run of fun, then Double Tap is a bloop to shallow center.  It may not be ambitious, but the movie still connects with just enough humor and intelligence to make it on base.

It’s a few years after the Z-pocalypse, and grass is beginning to grow over the chalky rubble of civilization.  Zombies still totter across the topography, but they are undergoing an undead evolution.  The narration filters the monsters into four new categories:  “Homers” (as in Simpson) are the dipshit zombies who chase butterflies and thunk into walls.  “Ninjas” leap from the shadows and feast on their startled prey.  “Hawkings” are smart and adaptive.  “T-800s” (yup, after the Terminator) make up a new breed of faster, stronger, and sturdier brain-maniacs who, like Keith Richards, are nearly impossible to kill.

As the zombies evolve, our human heroes from the first film change as well:  Wanderlust has gripped Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), as he yearns to strike out and hunt on his own.  Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) chafes at Tallahassee’s meddling stepdad routine and wants to find her first boyfriend.  Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) is ready to take his commitment to Wichita (Emma Stone) to the next level, but she isn’t quite ready for Love in the Time of Zombies.

The gang splits up, but soon has to rally when Little Rock runs off with Berkeley (Avan Jogia), a chord-strumming pseudo-beatnik.  Along this rescue op, we meet a variety of wacky characters:  Nevada (Rosario Dawson) is a hard-drinking badass who runs an Elvis-themed motel and can’t decide whether or not she wants to kiss Tallahassee or shoot him in the face.  Albuquerque (Luke Wilson) and Flagstaff (Thomas Middleditch) feel like Mirror Universe versions of Columbus and Tallahassee.  Madison (Zoey Deutch) is a ditzy blonde who blathers in Valleyspeak and has survived by hiding a shopping mall’s walk-in freezer.  Deutch pulls off this dumb-like-a-fox routine with deceptive skill, and she steals all of her scenes.

All of the returning players slip into their roles and play off each other perfectly.  Much of the film riffs on the funnier bits from its predecessor:  Flagstaff lives by commandments instead of Columbus’s rules, Tallahassee’s Twinkie has been replaced as a MacGuffin by Elvis’s pink Cadillac, etc.  Some of the new gags land, such as the gang holing up the Oval Office for a spell.  A long stretch at a commune of annoying hippies, however, falls pretty flat.

But that’s kinda the name of the game with movie sequels:  You take the good, you take the bad, you take ’em all, and then you have the…wait–the Facts of Life?  Damn it.  Anyway, Double Tap is a decent helping of leftovers.  It’s not fresh, but it still hits the spot.  And, with a few exceptions, that’s generally the nicest thing you can say about sequels:  If you loved the first one, this one probably won’t let you down.

99 min.  R.

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