A decade ago, when “The Walking Dead” was still only a gleam in AMC’s eye, “Zombieland” arrived in theatres, joining “Shaun of the Dead” from four years earlier at the apex of spoofs of the venerable genre that had thrived since George Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead” revived it in 1968. Director Ruben Fleischer and the original writers and cast try to recapture its anarchic spirit of comedy and gore in this long-in-gestation sequel, but the magic is gone, and despite the speed with which its new and improved species of the undead zoom around, “Double Tap” proves as lumbering and tepid as the AMC series has become after ten long years.
The script by Rheet Reese and Paul Wernick, joined this time around by David Callaham, reintroduces the original quartet of zombie-fighters—testosterone-driven Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), jittery Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), no-nonsense Wichita (Emma Stone) and her naïve sister Little Rock (Abigail Breslin)—as they decide to move into the deserted White House. There Columbus makes the mistake of proposing to Wichita, using the Hope Diamond for an engagement ring, leading Wichita and Little Rock to skedaddle and Tallahassee and Columbus to remain as a bickering duo.
Columbus’ brooding over his loss doesn’t last long, though, as on a jaunt through an abandoned mall they encounter Madison (Zoey Deutch), a ditzy airhead who’s survived by hiding in a freezer whenever zombies came around. It’s not long before she’s seduced Columbus. Meanwhile Wichita and Little Rock encounter Berkeley (Avan Jogia), a California hippie guitar-strummer, and Little Rock goes off with him, leaving Wichita to return to Washington and find Columbus involved with Madison.
Saving Little Rock from an unmanly sort like Berkeley becomes Tallahassee’s mission, however, so the reworked quartet are soon off after her, encountering along the way zombies that include the swifter, nearly unkillable evolved variant they dub, after The Terminator, the T-800s. Along the way they decide to visit Graceland, home of Tallahassee’s god Elvis, only to find it derelict. Nearby, however, they find a motel that’s been turned into a museum to the King by its sultry, saucy owner Nevada (Rosario Dawson), whom Tallahassee naturally finds compatible.
It’s there that Tallahassee and Columbus also encounter their virtual doubles in Albuquerque (Luke Wilson) and Flagstaff (Thomas Middleditch), with whom they develop a mixture of rivalry and bonhomie that could have developed into something more enduring if the arrival of a bunch of T-800s didn’t lead to a bloody brawl that thins the human ranks.
It all culminates this time not at an amusement park but a sort-of pacifist commune called Babylon, where Little Rock has wound up with Berkeley. There a stand-off becomes necessary against a huge horde of ravenous undead, most of them T-800s, and of course our heroes take the lead in mounting a risky resistance.
Clearly “Double Tap” is just what the subtitle suggests—a second shot at the same target of horror comedy, though one delivered not immediately but after the passage of a decade. But in moviemaking, unlike on a firing range or video screen, even the slightest pause can make all the difference, and while back in 2009 the first “Zombieland” felt fresh and fizzy, this attempted iteration comes across as a curiously flat recycling.
It has its moments, of course, as in a dueling rules recitation between Eisenberg (who milks his fidgety persona for all it’s worth) and the sweetly goofy Middleditch. And though Deutch’s embodiment of the stereotypical dumb blonde gets increasingly tiresome, in the earlier stages it has a Judy Holliday-esque obtuseness that’s amusing. Jogia’s blissful zonked-out quality is also enjoyable, all the more so for taking up minimal screen time.
Otherwise, though, matters are more mediocre. Harrelson’s one-note macho swagger is no longer as funny as it once was, and he’s around pretty continually. Especially in his and Eisenberg’s cases, it would be helpful if the writing for their characters were sharper than it is; the same holds true for Stone and Breslin. On the technical side, the picture is more than adequate, though most of the budget—apart from the cast paychecks—appears to have been spent on splatter effects that are okay but unremarkable. The more elaborate CGI displays are at most adequate. Fleischer’s direction is too often slack in the dialogue scenes but decent in the action ones, while Chung-hoon Chung’s cinematography is similarly fair but unexceptional.
The first “Zombieland” wasn’t much more than a wild reimaging of the “National Lampoon’s Vacation” road trip in comic-horror form, but it had zest and snarky spark. “Double Tap,” on the other hand, feels tired and out-of-date, and the closing suggestion that another installment might follow comes less as a promise than a threat.
It must be noted, though, that if you should go to the movie, don’t rush out as the final credits crawl begins. They’re interrupted by an extended sequence, a sort of prequel to the first picture, featuring a guest star turn you won’t want to miss—even if, to be honest, it isn’t as funny as you’d like it to be. In that way it resembles the entire film that’s preceded it.