In the misty glade and dusky bog of your memories, can you recall a time when zombies weren’t money? The first “Zombieland” came out in 2009, a year before “The Walking Dead” premiered on AMC, back before “World War Z,” back before that lousy “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” movie with Blackbeard’s zombie crew. Back before a lot of things.
“Zombieland” didn’t try to change the world; it was just out for a few laughs along those familiar Georgia highways, strewn with apocalyptic set dressing. It had the guts (literally) to proclaim itself a comedy first, rather than an action movie tarted up with a few wisecracks in between hackings. I enjoyed it.
Nobody asked for it, really, but “Zombieland: Double Tap” has its moments, too. It arrives 10 years and one Emma Stone Oscar after the first one. You’d think that “La La Land” Oscar might be good for a slightly larger role this time, but this harsh and merry world remains primarily in the control of top-billed Woody Harrelson and second-billed Jesse Eisenberg, with Stone and Abigail Breslin making do with what they have, somewhere between the foreground and the background.
Briefly: It’s still the zombie apocalypse, and our makeshift family of uninfected hero-survivors enjoys one day at a time, residing in what’s left of the White House, now tricked out with anti-zombie security measures. Fussy, extraordinarily well-organized Columbus (Eisenberg) and sardonic Wichita (Stone) are now fully a thing, though his proposal of marriage sends her into gotta-go mode. Tallahassee (Harrelson) remains the quasi-father figure, with Little Rock (Breslin) now a young woman and chafing at the quasi-parental oversight. She wants to break out on her own, and screenwriters Dave Callaham, Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick whisk the women away so the men can retrieve them before they’re besieged by a new strain of harder-to-kill zombies. These prove far more lethal than the “Homers” (slow, easily outwitted), “Hawkings” (smart, crafty) and even the ninja-like stealth zombies who appear out of nowhere.
The sequel moves from D.C. to what’s left of Elvis Presley’s Graceland. Rosario Dawson swaggers into frame as a new character, Nevada; Luke Wilson is Albuquerque, fellow survivor and Tallahassee’s virtual doppelganger. Zoey Deutch joins the ensemble as Madison, a dizzy survivor bearing a lot of pink luggage. She scores a surprising number of laughs off a weary “Legally Blonde” stereotype, while Stone must content herself with muttered jealousies in the corner.
Everyone on screen is good enough to do this sort of thing in their sleep, which isn’t to say Harrelson, Eisenberg, Stone, Breslin and Deutch laze through the assignment. The first “Zombieland” remains director Fleischer’s best movie by a mile; this one acknowledges, brazenly, the familiarity of it all. Eisenberg’s opening voiceover includes a line about the audience having “a lot of choices” when it comes to the zombie genre. Screenwriters Reese and Wernick wrote the “Deadpool” movies, which trade in a related form of snark. Recently the writers floated the idea of a crossover movie. Call “Double Tap” an act of fan service, no less than “Downton Abbey” or, in an entirely different and inferior grade of glibness, "Joker."