‘Zombieland: Double Tap’ is at Its Best When It Fully Embraces Its Possible Irrelevance

1 Comment

CREDIT: Sony/Columbia Pictures

Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone, Abigail Breslin, Zoey Deutch, Rosario Dawson, Luke Wilson, Thomas Middleditch, Avan Jogia

Director: Ruben Fleischer

Running Time: 93 Minutes

Rating: R for All the Fluids That Spew Out in the Zombie Apocalypse

Release Date: October 18, 2019

There’s a running gag throughout Zombieland: Double Tap in which Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson) attempts to secure the title of “Zombie Kill of the Year.” He can never seem to quite pull it off, as his companion Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) is on hand to helpfully inform us of some other recent dispatch of the undead that was just a little more impressive. This begs the question, in a post-apocalyptic world in which all mass communication has been decimated, how is word about these kills spreading so quickly and seamlessly? By Columbus providing this info via voiceover narration, there is an implication, perhaps unintentional, that he is somehow omniscient. Or maybe the conceit is that he is telling us this story years later, although that does not appear to be the case, what with the sense of immediacy to his dictation.

This is not the most worrisome concern to have, but it does stand in contrast to the original Zombieland, in which everything clicked into place just so, both comedically and logically. Double Tap has several elements like this that feel important but ultimately aren’t terribly so. The jokes are given greater emphasis, but even more essential is an investigation into a nagging sense of malaise. How do you go on living in a world overrun by zombies when killing zombies has become second nature? In addressing this question, the ten years that have passed since the first Zombieland are actually an advantage.

While people do die and new zombies are turned in this world, we are never worried that the makeshift family of Columbus, Tallahassee, Wichita (Emma Stone), and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) will fall victim to the carnage. And they seem to know it. They’re living it up in the White House, treating every day like it’s Christmas, but that sense of security is only engendering mid-life, or quarter-life, crises. Columbus and Wichita especially are struggling with the realization that they have already accomplished all they need to in life by their thirties. I wish that the script had dug into these neuroses a little more deeply, but this movie works as well as it does because this malaise is the foundational conflict.

Now, to fully enjoy Double Tap, you’ll have to have a pretty big appetite for the same self-aware self-deprecating jokes being told over and over and a full embrace of certain stereotypes that have already been thoroughly deconstructed. But there’s a lot more melancholy than you might expect from a past-it-sell-by-date carnage-filled zom-com. If that’s not quite a Zombie Endorsement of the Year, it’s at least enough to assure us that our undead imaginations haven’t been fully depleted yet.

Zombieland: Double Tap is Recommended If You Like: Staring into the void, while repeating your favorite jokes over and over again

Grade: 3 out of 5 Rules

Movie Review: ‘The Hummingbird Project’ Wrings Some Meaning Out of a Story That Few, If Any, People Were Clamoring to Hear

Leave a comment

CREDIT: The Orchard

Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Alexander Skarsgård, Michael Mando, Salma Hayek, Sarah Goldberg

Director: Kim Nguyen

Running Time: 111 Minutes

Rating: R for The Profanity of High-Stakes Finance

Release Date: March 15, 2019 (Limited)

The Hummingbird Project has one of the most stunningly esoteric premises of any theatrically released movie I have ever come across. So it’s a bit of a small miracle that it actually manages to be halfway compelling. It helps that the execution is straightforward, but that is also what holds it back from being truly memorable. Vincent Zaleski (Jesse Eisenberg) is a high-frequency trader whose dream is to build a fiber-optic cable line between Kansas and New Jersey that is efficient enough to decrease the time that information currently travels over that distance by one millisecond. But is that really his dream? Is that really anyone’s dream? His cousin and partner Anton (Alexander Skarsgård) is just as committed to the goal, but he essentially has a healthier perspective, treating it as a game or a code to crack. For Vincent, this is really about proving to the world that the little guy can come out on top, but his obsession has led him to turn the meaning of this highly specialized thing into the thing itself, when it actually represents normal human desires.

I imagine that many viewers will have the same reaction to Vincent and Anton that I did, which is to want to assure them that one millisecond cannot possibly be that important, no matter how many millions it will make them over the long run. Their pursuit is fundamentally maddening, though Eisenberg and Skarsgård make it palatable by tuning their performances to a sensitive enough key. It also helps that the script underlines how much they are doing this for a better family life. Vincent keeps reminding Anton that this job will ultimately lead to a charming, country mansion. Their desires are simple, really, as Vincent also promises that he will take Anton’s daughters out for ice cream once they return home.

Unsurprisingly, then, for a number of reasons, it turns out that Vincent is doing this all for his father, a Russian immigrant who was shaken down by government types on suspicion of being a communist spy. That led Vincent to learn that he needs to be so good at what he does that the people in charge cannot possibly deny it. This is a fairly unique version of the trope of attempting to please your parents after they’ve died, but it is not reason enough for Vincent to practically kill himself with his single-mindedness. It is a bit of a marvel how much relatable meaning can come out of this premise, but is still so esoteric as to have been seemingly made for one very specific theoretical viewer, and that viewer is not me.

The Hummingbird Project is Recommended If You Like: The specifics of laying down fiber-optic cable

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Milliseconds