When Zoey Deutch first appeared in the trailer for Zombieland: Double Tap, I was worried. Her character, a blonde ditz named Madison, seemed as much a relic from 2009 as her rainbow Louis Vuitton purse. With Valley Girl inflections and French-manicured talons, she initially appeared to exist only to satisfy Columbus’ (Jesse Eisenberg) sexual fantasies. I should have known better. Deutch is a scene-stealer, and this movie is no exception. She is the one must-see in a sequel that fails to really make a case for its existence.
Still, things aren’t perfect. Little Rock, now grown up, craves the company of people her own age. Tallahassee, meanwhile, is starting to feel the call of the road, which he tries to justify with some far-fetched subplot about his Native American ancestry that the movie only kind of pulls off. As for Wichita and Columbus, they’ve hit a rut in their relationship, which he clumsily tries to fix by proposing to her with the Hope Diamond (one of many running gags about using random memorabilia from the White House in everyday life). Spooked, she and Little Rock take this as their cue to take off, leaving nothing but a poorly phrased note behind (notes are another explicable running gag).
Outside though, things are changing. A new kind of zombie nicknamed the T-800 (an allusion to Terminator 2) has emerged, faster and much, much harder to kill. And when Little Rock leaves Wichita for a hitchhiking hippie boy from Berkeley (Avan Jogia), the gang gets back together to find her and bring her to safety, meeting a host of new characters along the way.
One of them is Madison, whom Columbus and Tallahassee come across at a mall. She’s an immediate breath of fresh air in a stale concept, and not just because she’s been surviving by hiding in a Pinkberry freezer. With her pink Juicy Couture tracksuit, matching Ugg boots, and Von Dutch tank top, her sartorial choices are frozen circa The Simple Life. But despite the many, many jokes about her lack of brains, Deutch manages to make Madison feel like she’s the one in control. Take the way she takes charge when it comes to her sexual needs, telling Columbus that if he’s not going to satisfy her, she’ll find someone who will.
One of the peculiar things about the Zombieland franchise is how devoid of sexual tension it is. Sure, there were jokes about Columbus’ virginity in the first one, but no one exudes even a hint of BDE — until now. This kind of equal opportunity horniness in the apocalypse is a refreshing twist in a franchise that initially operated around the male gaze.
Unfortunately, that’s the closest Double Tap gets to woke. Stone and Breslin are wasted in this film, which gives them absolutely nothing to do other than pursue various men. Same goes for Rosario Dawson as Nevada, whom our friends come across on their way to Graceland, where they believe Little Rock to be headed. (Elvis is basically this movie’s Bill Murray.) She may be a strong, stubborn survivor, but the movie doesn’t have plans for her beyond a love interest for Tallahassee, simply because...he’s single? And that would be fine, where it not for the entirely regressive banter around her “driveway” between a newly smitten Tallahassee and Nevada’s former lover, Albuquerque (Luke Wilson), who, along with Thomas Middleditch’s Flagstaff, is only around long enough for a brief but amusing doppelgänger gag.
That kind of sums up the entire film. Is it funny? Sometimes. Does it make sense? Kind of. Is it worth watching? Well, that depends.
As far as fan service goes, Double Tap is a success. Director Ruben Fleischer clearly knows what the audience wants, and the film doesn’t pretend to be anything other than it is. It’s not necessary by any stretch of the imagination, but neither really, was the original. And yet, there’s something undeniably charming about this particular cast and the chemistry they share. Harrelson, in particular, is in it to win it (there’s a good rhyme for you, Tallahassee), and that goes a long way. But it’s Deutch I look forward to rewatching over and over for years to come when I inadvertently flip across this movie on whatever streaming service it ends up on. Cable, after all, is so 2009.