I remember watching the film, Oceans 12 (2004). I don’t mean to say I remember the plot, because I don’t except for the laser dance guy scene. (Btw, the laser dance guy scene is just as cool as it ever was. It’s basically the one redeeming part of the film.) But what I do remember is being disappointed after watching the film. I remember that feeling.
The film wasn’t horrible, but it didn’t dazzle, impress, or keep you on the edge of your seat like its forerunner, Oceans 11 (2001). And watching the film, it wasn’t hard to figure out why. The actors were too busy having a good time to make a good film, and they were too busy acting cool to do a cool job acting. They were the bees knees, they knew it, and it didn’t feel like they were too terribly interested in the story, either. Perhaps, the assumption the producers, directors, and actors made was that viewers were just there to watch the big names, in their big flashy clothes, and let the film wash over them. It wasn’t meant to be whisky in a glass; it was meant to be Miller Lite from a red solo cup–and the cup had a hole in it.
It seems that David Ansen from Newsweek might agree with me when he opines that “Ocean’s Twelve is busier, messier and thinner than its predecessor, and while it looks like the cast is having a blast and a half, the studied hipness can get so pleased with itself it borders on the smug.” Later in the review he drives home this point: “This sequel is best enjoyed if you don’t take the plot too seriously–and why should you, when the filmmakers obviously don’t?” Precisely. Oceans 12 wasn’t a bad film, but it was just a bit too satisfied with its own nonchalance. You could tell the actors were buddies with each other, and you got the sense that after the final day of filming–and maybe before then–they would all imbibe large amounts of liquor . . . or some other substance.
Along comes Zombieland, Double Tap (2019), a sequel to the successful, clever, and fun 2009 film, Zombieland. If Wikipedia is to be believed, the original returned on it’s investment almost five-fold, bringing in over one-hundred million dollars. On the tomato-meter, the original received 90% fresh rating from the critics and 86% from the fans. Much like Oceans 11, the film combined a relaxed along-for-the-ride mood with a few legitimate if conventional story-lines. And the original Zombieland cleverly satirized the apocalyptic genre in Horatian style. It was one of those films that you could watch over and over again. It had classic stars like Woody Harrelson (Tallahassee) and Bill Murray (as Bill Murray), but it also brought in new stars like Jesse Eisenberg (Columbus), Emma Stone (Wichita), and Abigail Breslin (Little Rock). So it’s easy to see how it appealed to multiple generations. But all this backstory is to get to the sequel.
What kind of sequel would it be? Would it be better than the first? A bomb? Or would it be like Oceans 12, and be just a bit too satisfied with itself? Well, it turns out it’s none of those things. Zombieland, Double Tap is a delightful, lighthearted film that uses a McGuffin or two to get the plot started and moving, but it’s rather clear the film is not so much about the plot as it is about the characters enjoying each other’s company and having a good time. What makes this different from Oceans 12 is that in that film it was more about the actors having a good time and just incidentally making a movie. One got the sense that they were barely staying in character and didn’t really care too much to try. In Z,DT, the relaxed camaraderie feels more like it’s happening on the character level than exclusively between the actors. I say “exclusively” because there’s a palpable sense of enjoyment that manifests from the actors that make me believe they had a lot of fun making this film and reminiscing about the first. Another reason why this camaraderie works in Z,DT is because the themes of the film include home, family, nostalgia and camaraderie. In other words, that “let’s have fun while we make a movie” vibe perfectly reinforced the themes of the film rather than undercutting them.
All the old stars come back for the sequel, but there are some new surprises along the way (and one old surprise, but I’ll try not to give away what I mean by that.) By far the best new surprise of this film is the performance of Zoey Deutch, who plays Madison, a ditsy but well meaning survivor of the apocalypse whose character is credulous, goofy, and who loves clothes, makeup, and not packing light before travel (a violation of one of Columbus’ many rules of survivor). After Wichita and Little Rock run off from Columbus and Tallahassee, Madison and Columbus quickly form a odd couple relationship. Then just after that romance emerges, Wichita returns, and we have a romantic triangle. We also have our McGuffin because Little Rock has apparently gone her own way with some hipster from Berkeley (Avan Jogia) who believes in non-violent approaches to zombie confrontation. The gang, concerned with Little Rock’s welfare, goes off to find her, and their first stop is Graceland, Elvis’ famous home and the source of nostalgia for more than one character in the film.
I’ll gesture to a few other surprises without giving anything away (or, at least, trying not to). As Anton Chekov once quipped, “If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired. Otherwise don’t put it there.” Keep that in mind, while watching this film, not so much with guns (though those too) but with other very notable props or parts of the film. Parts of Acts One and Two will return before the film is over. Second, watch the credits. Watch them all the way through. It will be worth it, and you’ll just have to trust me.
- There’s a fight sequence half way through the film, near Graceland. It’s quite fun to watch, and the moving camera work is especially well done. Look for the cinematography in that scene.
- The new characters really add to this film, and not to belabor the point, but none more so than Madison, played by Zoey Deutch.
- When I say watch the film all the way through to the very end of the credits, what I mean by that is watch the film all the way through the very end of the credits.
- The “Double Tap” in the title comes from one of the many rules of Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg).
- There are some metadramatic references to the first film, both subtle and explicit, almost to the point of breaking the fourth wall.