Something is rotten in the state of Zombieland. In the opening monologue of Zombieland: Double Tap, Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) wonders why anyone would show up for a sequel a full decade later. The self-awareness is funny, but, like the film itself, it’s the comedy equivalent of a long-deceased friend rising from the dead; you want there to still be some inkling of the person you knew, but 10 years of decomposition didn’t do them any favors.
The sequel, directed by Venom’s Ruben Fleischer, sees the original quartet from 2009 — Columbus, Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), Wichita (Emma Stone), and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) — enjoying the zombie apocalypse version of domestic bliss. The peace doesn’t last long. Little Rock wants to meet people her own age, and Wichita gets spooked by Columbus’ marriage proposal. The two of them bolt, only for Little Rock to leave Wichita in the dust when a guy her age (Avan Jogia) appears with news of a commune of people their age who have forsaken the use of guns.
With a particularly strong new breed of zombie on the rise, it falls to Columbus, Tallahassee, and Wichita to get Little Rock back, though the group dynamic is put under a little strain by the addition of Madison (Zoey Deutch), whom Columbus shacks up with after believing Wichita to be gone. Double Tap should be a fun ride — all of the cast are charming enough that just watching them hang out would at least be a little entertaining — but if you feel a creeping, uncomfortable sensation crawling up your spine as they turn zombie after zombie into bloody pulp, it’s not just because of the thought of impending doom. The movie, zippy as it is, houses the kind of misogyny that went out of style around the time the first movie came out.
Deutch’s total commitment to the part of air-headed blonde almost saves the role, but the degree to which the script (written by Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick, and Dave Callaham) seems to resent both her and Wichita drags the whole enterprise down. Every female character — including Rosario Dawson as Nevada, who runs an Elvis-themed motel — exists to be a love interest, fulfilling either the “emotionally unavailable cool girl” or “sexually available hot girl” trope. What’s worse is that the Madonna-whore dichotomy is used as a weapon; Madison and Wichita are pitted against each other, with Wichita made out to be a killjoy for being uncertain about commitment and Madison a meaningless fling for being sexually liberated.
Neither can win, and both are thrown under the bus — though no one is more trampled and mistreated than Madison, who is the butt of almost every joke. In the year of our lord 2019, I kept expecting there to be a turn: for Madison to reveal some unexpected talent, or for her and Wichita to get over their shared relations with an ultimately kind of “eh” guy, but no go. Zombieland: Double Tap is firmly stuck in 2009, antiquated gender politics and all. And that’s not to mention a belabored scene in which a driveway is used as a metaphor for Nevada’s nether regions.
Those dynamics feel rotten given how entertaining the rest of the film can be. Deutch seems to be having fun despite everything, and Harrelson turns his hambone comic chops up to 11 as he kicks and screams his way through the wasteland, even briefly dressing up as Elvis. Luke Wilson and Thomas Middleditch have some obvious fun, too, as doppelgängers for Tallahassee and Columbus who show up halfway through the movie to cause a little chaos.
A demented final (or mid-credits) scene that capitalizes on the biggest celebrity cameo in the first movie is the cherry on top of the very sour cake. Set during a press junket, it casts film critics as the enemy, effectively defying anyone who dares to criticize its shallow sense of humor. The scene also makes it clear that Double Tap doesn’t have anything to give that wasn’t in the original movie, which I’m now afraid to revisit lest it turn out to be as bad as the sequel it spawned.
Zombieland: Double Tap hits theaters this weekend.