There’s a repetitive — but not necessarily redundant — quality to “Zombieland: Double Tap,” a violent, funny and satisfying sequel to the 2009 cult hit zombie comedy about a quartet of human survivors trying to build a sense of family as they travel across an America overrun by the undead. It’s in the very subtitle, which in addition to signifying “No. 2,” a double entendre that the makers of this gleefully vulgar exercise in potty-mouthedness would almost certainly appreciate, refers back to a concept introduced in the original movie.
“Double Tap” is just one of dozens of survival “rules” advanced by the series’ obsessive-compulsive narrator (Jesse Eisenberg), and it alludes to a firearm technique that advocates shooting someone — in this case, a zombie — not just once, but twice for good measure, to make sure the target is well and truly neutralized.
It applies equally well to the new film, which reprises most of what was already so effective about “Zombieland” in the first place: A sense of cartoonishly over-the-top violence that the film wears lightly — like a consequence-free, first-person-shooter video game — tempered by a surprising sweetness that’s hidden beneath a veneer of near-constant, catchphrase-worthy wisecracking.
“You guys are all very sarcastic,” says a new character, Madison (Zoey Deutch), with enormous understatement, when she meets the four trash-talking protagonists, who, like her, have all adopted nicknames that point to their hometowns: Columbus (Eisenberg), Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin). Their sardonic banter, which masks genuine affection for each other, is readily apparent, even to someone like Madison, an airhead so dumb that Tallahassee jokes that she’s immune to attacks by brain-eaters, considering she doesn’t have one.
As the film opens, our heroes have taken up residence in a deserted White House, affording a few silly jokes that Washingtonians might chuckle at more than others. But when Little Rock runs off with a hippie hitchhiker (Avan Jogia), her cohorts set out on a road trip — as they did in the first film — to retrieve her, stopping along the way at a shrine-like Elvis Presley museum, where the proprietor is played by Rosario Dawson, and the nebbishy Columbus and the tough-talking cowboy Tallahassee meet mirror images of themselves, played by Thomas Middleditch and Luke Wilson. “Double Tap” is sprinkled with such references to duality, along with a barrage of pop cultural shout-outs low and high: to Homer Simpson, Stephen Hawking, the Terminator movies, Donkey Kong, singer David Gray and Olympian Usain Bolt.
Mostly, it’s just mindless fun, in the exact same way the first film was, even recycling Bill Murray, whose fatal cameo — as himself — 10 years ago was a highlight of the 2009 film. Make sure you stay through the closing credits, or you’ll miss it. It’s a brilliant, and wholly rewarding, encore.
Is “Zombieland: Double Tap,” strictly speaking, necessary? Does it advance the story in any manner, or eviscerate the horror genre in a way the first film didn’t? No, no and no. It’s basically like shooting a member of the walking dead in the face a second time, when the first bullet arguably did the trick: superfluous, maybe, but it does hit a certain sweet spot.