When the first “Zombieland” shambled onto screens back in 2009, the cinematic and television landscapes weren’t quite so saturated with the legions of the living dead as they are now. That was so long ago that AMC’s “The Walking Dead” wouldn’t yet premiere for another year. Back then Zombie films weren’t rare, to be sure, but it burst in with a cynical comedic edge that resonated with audiences. It managed to blend a graphic zombie action film with comedy that had only been done successfully a few times previously (most successfully by its predecessors, “Shawn of the Dead”, “Fido”, and “Return of the Living Dead”). Now the sequel, “Zombieland: Double Tap,” takes its self-awareness to a new level, even opening with a voice-over by returning lead, Columbus (played by Jesse Eisenberg), doing a Southwest Airlines-worthy, “we thank you for choosing Zombieland, as we know you have many choices when selecting your zombie entertainment.” It knows itself, and it knows its audience and it dials it up to 11.
With the returning cast from the original, including Woody Harrelson as Tallahassee, Emma Stone as Wichita and Abigail Breslin as Little Rock, they’ve settled into the White House (using a painting of President Taft as Christmas paper one year) and the years have passed by. Wichita and Little Rock decide that they’ve stayed put for a bit too long and it’s time to find out what else is out there on the road. Wichita comes back to give the boys the bad news that Little Rock has met up with a hippy named Berkeley and decide to head off to Graceland.
It doesn’t take long before Tallahassee and Columbus opt to go after them (mostly so Tallahassee can save Little Rock from a life of drum circles and patchouli oil). They meet up with Zoey Deutch as Madison, who is channeling the most epic ditzy blonde on screen since the Valley Girl era (she’s hidden out in a nearby mall freezer for most of the intervening years), and with Rosario Dawson as Nevada (the proprietor of a roadside shrine to Elvis Presley).
The new characters add well to the mix, and Madison’s even played not with cruelty but rather a light touch so the audience is more laughing with her instead of at her. Everyone in the film is so clearly having a blast of a time that it carries through the screen. Where the original film was working on touching on and subverting as many of the zombie genre’s various tropes and making fun of them as possible, now the audience knows it all too well (how many zombie series and films are available on Netflix right now again). Rather than doing that same routine over again, they’ve focused on having fun with the humans their various quirks and interactions. It’s that playing off of each other that keeps it from dropping into the same ol’ zombie wasteland romp once again.
It’s definitely worth catching in a theater so you can have a crowd laughing right along with you.
Zombieland: Double Tap, is rated R and is open in theaters everywhere.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.