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

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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

This Is a Movie Review: Unforgettable

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This review was originally published on News Cult in April 2017.

Starring: Rosario Dawson, Katherine Heigl, Geoff Stults

Director: Denise Di Novi

Running Time: 100 Minutes

Rating: R for Impromptu Bathroom Sex and Bloody Carpets

Release Date: April 21, 2017

When Sia’s “Bird Set Free” played at the end of The Shallows, it was one of the most cathartic cinematic moments of 2016. Domestic-revenge thriller Unforgettable bungles the proper order of things by playing this inspirational ballad over the opening credits. This ode to finding yourself in your own melodies is perfect for that moment when the lead character has gotten through all her hardships and is starting anew. This is actually how we are introduced to Julia Banks (Rosario Dawson), who is moving to a new city and getting engaged in the wake of escaping an abusive relationship, but the impact of that exuberance can only be felt mildly without experiencing those troubles alongside Julia.

Strangely enough, though, what Unforgettable most gets right is its pacing. That execution is essential, because otherwise this would just be the latest disposable Fatal Attraction copycat. And at first glance, Unforgettable appears to be totally forgettable. But that may be by design. Julia’s fiancée is conventionally handsome David (Geoff Stults), and David’s ex Tessa (Katherine Heigl) is still in the picture because they share custody of their daughter (Isabella Rice). Tessa clearly wants David back, because of what we assume to be run-of-the-mill jealousy but eventually reveals itself as stone cold, high camp psychopathy.

This might be the most self-aware performance Heigl has ever given. Certainly the script (by Christina Hodson and David Leslie Johnson) stealthily reveals itself to be playing off of her toxic reputation. Heigl’s string of ’00s rom-coms were alternately insipid and hateful; Unforgettable presupposes that maybe she was just being engineered to be a merciless killer the whole time.

In the question of nature vs. nurture, the latter seems to be the answer in this case, as Tessa’s obsessions are in large part the result of Mommie Dearest/Stepford-style engineering from Mom Cheryl Ladd. Tessa tries to present herself as simply high-strung, but the cracks gradually reveal themselves. Relatively mildly cutting dialogue like “Do you miss when Mommy and Daddy lived together?” eventually gives way to referring to her daughter as “living, breathing, perfect cement” and finally a climax in which she greets someone in bloody pain with, “You’ve handled this very poorly.” Sometimes, you just have to pull that ponytail tight and embrace the demon within.

Unforgettable is Recommended If You Like: Lifetime movies, Carrie, Allison Williams’ performance in Get Out

Grade: 3 out of 5 Knives to the Heart