" Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain "
— [wizard], The Wizard of Oz

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Rango

Rango is a terrific movie, but it isn't for the kiddies. —Matt Anderson (review...)

Rango more for movie buffs than kids?

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Zombieland: Double Tap is an entertaining, but gutless, sequel. It’s a missed opportunity that doesn’t take advantage of these braindead times.

Rule #2

Surviving in the wasteland
Surviving in the wasteland

The original Zombieland was released on Oct. 2, 2009. One has to assume Joker played a role in the release of Double Tap missing that historic 10-year anniversary by a couple weeks.

As for the original installment, it was a pretty wild ride for its time. It was ahead of the zombie craze that simply doesn’t die. It exhibited a lot of filmmaking savvy, brandished a considerable amount of wit, featured a rag-tag collection of interesting individuals working together in their fight for survival. And it had a very unique cameo by Bill Murray that helped put it over the top.

In comparison, this one feels rather lazy in large part because of all the material this sequel fails to “double tap” into – Obama, Trump, the #MeToo movement, fake news, the rise of identity theft and the resurrection of socialism (those last two could easily be intermingled in this context). So many ideas for the taking. So many possibilities. After all, horror movies – and zombie movies in particular – can be a tremendous vehicle for social commentary. Instead, this one obstinately moves forward with a generic story about “home” and “family.”

What’s worse, this one starts with the fearless foursome – Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson, Lost in London), Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network), Wichita (Emma Stone, La La Land) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin, Little Miss Sunshine) – moving into the long-abandoned White House. One joke about who among the four has the best temperament to be president and then the humor devolves to regifting presidential artifacts and repurposing presidential portraits as wrapping paper for Christmas in November. (Oh, and they sign a pardon for Wesley Snipes.)

Taking Care of Business

It’s one of those listless sequels that takes time to find its story and direction. Once they’re found, it turns into a disappointingly uninspired journey.

That storyline revolves around Little Rock feeling a little lonely. She’d like to have a boyfriend, but there are no non-undead boys her age. Throw in a blonde ditz named Montana (Zoey Deutch, Beautiful Creatures), a shallow pacifist named Berkeley (Avan Jogia, Spike TV’s Tut) and a tough motel owner named Nevada (Rosario Dawson, Sin City) and the bulk of the 99 minutes revolve around the romantic entanglements of this not-so-magnificent seven.

But there are the occasional nods to the changing times.

On the zombie front, the zombies have evolved (unfortunately, the same can’t be said of the living). There are now new breeds of zombies: Homers (donut-chomping idiots), Hawkings (smart zombies who quickly assess and take advantage of situations), ninjas (fast-moving hooligans) and a breed affectionately referred to as T-800s (virtually indestructible beasts).

Part of the narrative challenge is the movie follows a literal timeline – as the original Zombieland was released 10 years ago, the lead characters have been fighting the good fight for the past 10 years.

What are the ramifications for this alternate universe? Well, for one, Uber never existed. And that leads to the movie’s most inspired line of conversation. Montana – the airhead – shares a great idea for a business where strangers give strangers rides and thereby upend the stagnant taxi-cab business model. The conversation goes on for just enough time to make it clear this is an alternate reality in which life as we know it forever changed way back in 2009.

Devolution

Zombieland has been something of an unsung, ongoing pet project for its creators, Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick. Following the 2009 original, there was a failed TV pilot in 2013. Now this, in 2019. Between Zombieland episodes, the pair also co-wrote the two Deadpool movies, which abound in irreverence and a playful deconstruction of comic book tropes. Maybe those extracurricular forays zapped some of their creative energy, requiring the addition of writer Dave Callaham (The Expendables) to join the zombie fray. At least that’s what it looks like from the outside-in.

In any case, hopes run high after an inspired opening involving the Columbia logo and lady Columbia fending off zombies with her torch. But the euphoria is short-lived. For the longest time, there’s anticipation for some sort of novel cameo, something to match the original’s surprise – and demise – of Bill Murray.

Nah. Keep waiting.

Walking Dead? Yeah. It gets a nod. After reading one of the comic books (which started publication in 2003), Columbus writes it off as “terrifying and totally unrealistic.”

Hah.

But keep waiting.

Social commentary? There’s a smidge. In a pacifist haven called Babylon, all weapons are melted down at the door and visitors are conspicuously advised group sex is not allowed. Fine. Kinda funny. But later, in a rallying moment, one of the pacifists spouts off hot-button cultural talking points: racism, sexism and social injustice.

Double Tap could’ve used more of that surface-scratching digs at words turning into meaningless, passionless rallying cries completely divorced from the situation at hand.

And then it finally happens at the very end, as an acknowledged apology by Columbus. It’s a surprise bit that reinforces the overall sensation of Double Tap being an obstinate movie endeavor. It’s driven by one funny thought: Garfield 3. Or, in a more pretentious vein, The Garfield Trilogy.

This gag goes on for too long. And it even comes back from its own undeadness for one last post-credits hack.