Thursday, April 23, 2020

Zombieland: Double Tap (2019)

It took ten years for the action-comedy-with-zombies film Zombieland to get a sequel, which is a bit of a surprise with studios looking for the next big franchise.  Sure, fans got an Amazon series that doubled for an Onstar commercial, with other a actors filling in for the main characters, but it never got past the pilot episode.  Eventually, the schedules of the main actors and we got Zombieland: Double Tap, a film that followed the inherent trait of most action franchises, where the mayhem has to be escalated by a factor of ten.  But the problem is, as with most actions films, this comes at a cost to the script, sacrificing any attempt at character development to rush to the next big battle.  That could have worked, had the film not started up a decade after the original.  Having the characters frozen in time, even as they come across (what one assumes) the first survivors since their original film, feels hollow and forced.

And, as I mentioned above, the reliance on CGI effects to amp up the action doesn't help.  By allowing people and vehicles to defy the basic laws of physics, the film feels more like a cartoon designed by an eight-year-old, existing only to look as awesome as possible.  While that might work in a superhero movie, it looks terrible in a zombie film.

As I said earlier, the sequel takes place ten years after the original.  The main cast is still battling their way through the zombie apocalypse on the way to their new home, the White House.  But once they settle in, the group experiences some friction.  Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) proposes the Wichita (Emma Stone), while Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson) continues to treat Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) as a child.  Feeling pressured by the men, the two women leave the next day in Tallahassee's supped up vehicle to seek out a new life.

And yes, I stand by that statement.  The men prompt the women to leave, as Columbus treats Wichita as a prize he's finally won, and Tallahassee tries to keep Little Rock as the young girl he met ten years earlier, and not acknowledge that she's grown up.

Come at me, commentators.  I'm ready to ignore you.  Hey, it's my opinion, yours might be different, and I'm happy to accept that.

Anyway, about a month later, Tallahassee and Columbus bump into Madison (Zoey Deutch), a stereotypical ditzy valley girl living in a mall since the zombie apocalypse happened.  Though they haven't seen another survivor in years, Tallahassee seems content to leave her at the mall, which I just couldn't believe.  Sure, it's obvious she grates on him, but after ten years with the same three people, I would assume a bit of variety would be a nice change.

Just a quick aside.  I found Madison to be very out of place.  While Deutch does a great job, her character feels out of place, and would have worked better if this film was released in the 80s.  I guess the filmmakers figured since she'd been living in a mall for a decade, she'd evolve into a valley girl for some reason.  And, as the main characters are cliches, adding another into the mix shouldn't be a surprise.  But it was just jarring to me.

Come on, this character would have been totally cool in the 80s.
Where's your nostalgia spirit?

Madison ends up back at the White House, thanks to Columbus.  And that evening, she"pressures" him into having sex, as she's been alone for years and is horny as hell.  Though Columbus resists, her final argument that she'll go with the "old guy" if he doesn't agree tips the scales in her favor.

And you'll never guess what happens next.

Read all the sarcasm you can into that sentence.  Unless you haven't seen a movie ever, you know Wichita will show up that very night.  She announces she's only re-arming herself, as Little Rock ditched her after meeting Burkley (Avan Jogia), a pacifist taking credit for other musician's songs.

Anyway, once Wichita finds out about Madison, the film takes a major turn into rom-com mode that injects itself throughout the film.  Fortunately, everyone, including Madison, agrees to hit the road and search for Little Rock.  Wichita suggests heading to Graceland, as Tallahassee's love of Elvis Presley compelled him to talk about it endlessly to Little Rock, and thinks she might be heading there.

Yeah, right.  Whatever.

During their journey, the group encounters what Columbus calls a T-800 zombie, which doesn't die without a hailstorm of bullets.  Again, another upping the ante moment that makes no freaking sense, as zombies are still human and bullets in the right place should incapacitate them.  After the encounter, Madison shows signs of being bitten, so Columbus takes it upon himself to shoot her off screen.

Okay, we're heading into SPOILER TERRITORY here, so consider yourself warned.  Though, to be honest, you won't be surprised if you've seen enough episodes of The Walking Dead.  But, if you're not in the mood for obvious SPOILERS, skip down five paragraphs.

The three make it to Graceland, only to find it in ruins.  Taking refuge an Elvis-themed motel, they meet Nevada (Rosario Dawson), who hooks up with Tallahassee.  The next morning, the other guy in Nevada's life, Albuquerque (Luke Wilson), shows up with Flagstaff (Thomas Middleditch).  As the pair are basically clones of Tallahassee and Columbus, a pissing match ensues leading to more zombie mayhem, and our heroes drive off to Babylon, a hippie commune riding out the zombie apocalypse on peace, love and a really fortified compound.  And they smelt down all firearms to make some cool necklaces.

So, Tallahassee's reason to be interested in other survivors
depends upon his chances of getting laid.  Got it.

Oh, and Nevada stays behind, for some stupid reason.  I've got to be honest, the characters in this film aren't the brightest and I wonder how they've lasted so long.

Alright, writing about the plot is hurting my head as much as it did watching it.  So let's end it now.  Madison is alive, the group find Little Rock, a massive horde of T-800s are heading to Babylon and our heroes must ensure the commune survives.

And, as expected, zombie mayhem ensues.

Don't worry, I know we're just carrying torches.
But the CGI artists have some over the top stuff coming your way.

And this is the moment what I call The Rule of Escalating Action Set Pieces comes into play.  In most action franchises, the sequels are compelled to up the ante and make the ensuing mayhem more spectacular than the previous film.  And Zombieland: Double Tap falls into the trap.  The CGI mayhem involving our heroes defending Babylon is so cartoonish at times, it made me wonder if the three screenwriter (Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick, Dave Callaham) just watched a young kid playing with some action figures and said, "Yep, there's our climax."

Look, I love movies with awesome effects, whether they be CGI or practical.  But I need to accept the effects in the world a movie has build.  If the film has superheroes flying about, I'm fine with it.  But when it involves a monster truck soaring through the air as if it was wearing a cape, I have to call BS.

I believe I can fly,
crushing the zombies I happen to spy.

Okay, this is the end of SPOILERS and it my ranting about the CGI effects.  But my issues with Zombieland: Double Tap go deeper.  The script is a mess.  To start, it expects viewers to accept the characters as who they were ten years ago, which is a big problem.  And if we're going to talk about the script's treatment of the characters, we have to start with Little Rock.  And I know this might sound creepy, but please hear me out before rushing to the comment section.

Breslin was barely in her teens when Zombieland came out and now she's in her early twenties.  The film treats the passage of time as natural, but keeps the characters frozen in place.  One could argue it makes sense for the older characters, but not Little Rock.  She's matured into an adult, yet the script has no idea how to deal with that fact.  Her abandonment of Wichita is considered little more than a rebellious act against the parent figures in her life.  And once the others find her in Babylon, they assume she just wants to be with people her own age.  The script never even tries to suggest that Little Rock might just want to get laid.  Instead, her rebellion is treated as little more than a simple teen crush on some guy before she returns to her stable, yet dysfunctional, family unit.

Look, you could say it's implied that she had sex with Berkley.  But I find it a disservice to the character not to address it directly.  And no, I'm not suggesting anything explicit.  But it seems like the script writers and director Ruben Fleischer were unwilling to have Little Rock be anything more than a little girl experiencing her first crush, and taking a rather conservative tone by having her rejoin the parent figures in her life.

And worse yet (oops, one more SPOILER ahead), she ends up the fifth wheel again, as Tallahassee has a partner at the end of the film (guess who).  Seriously, the filmmakers needed to grow a pair and tackle this issue.  Done right, it would have been a interesting story point in an otherwise bland script.  Instead, they played it safe and kept the family dynamic intact (probably for another sequel), while neutering any opportunity to say something interesting.

Well, instead of being a fleshed out character, I got to shot a big gun.
That's cool, right?

As for the acting, it's fine.  The main four fall back into their roles with ease, and Nevada is a nice addition to the cast.  Owens and Middleditch are fine, but their characters feel forced into the script.  Burkley and his cohorts are fine, but their addition creates problems.  As I said earlier, the reaction of the four main characters don't seem realistic when they meet other survivors, and that issue is amplified when every meets up in Babylon.  The script ignores an interesting idea and simply plays it for laughs.  I wanted to know more about Babylon, how they were able to ride out the zombie apocalypse without a horde of zombies at the fences, and how Berkeley survived so long without becoming zombie chow.  But the script Babylon as a goofy place that needs saving from the main heroes, setting up a quick Army of Darkness training montage for zombie fans.

The more I think about it, the script feels quite conservative.  People with big guns and monster trucks will save everyone, young women aren't interested in sex, and hippies are funny.  It's a far cry from the zombie movies I grew up with, where humans are the bigger threat, people still have normal urges and authority figures are not to be trusted.  Sure, such ideas might be hard to build into what's simply an action flick with zombies.  But I found myself wishing the filmmakers weren't so interested playing it safe and building a franchise, rather than exploring the interesting environment they'd created.

Zombieland: Double Tap might be a fine time waster for fans of the original.   However, the over-the-top CGI action and lack of any character development makes it more like a cartoon than a movie.  Had the filmmakers dug slightly deeper, and tried to make a comment on humanity in crisis and isolation, this could have been an interesting film.  And after such a long break, you'd hope the filmmakers would have come up with an engaging idea to elevate the franchise beyond the simple point and click feel of a zombie video game. 

SPOILER:  Bill Murray does show up.
And it's pretty pointless.

If you'd like to watch or purchase Zombieland: Double Tap, please consider using the Amazon links below.  If you do, I'll earn a few cents, which will help keep The Shadow Over Portland office open. The first two are to purchase the DVD or Blu-Ray, the last is to stream the film.