Never mind the rules of Zombieland. The rules governing Hollywood dictate that anything successful gets a sequel, even if you have to wait a decade to tap into it. Those have been fruitful years for the stars of “Zombieland: Double Tap,” providing key assets to a movie that offers gore, comedy and just plain silliness, but falls somewhat short of a complete meal.
The heavily narrated original saw nerdy loner Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) — fond of spouting his rules for surviving — forge an unlikely family in the wake of a zombie apocalypse, one that consisted of his gruff companion Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), crush Wichita (Emma Stone) and her younger sister Little Rock (Abigail Breslin).
As this second exercise begins, the band is still together, pretty quickly taking up residence in an abandoned White House, which offers some fertile comedic possibilities and amusing visual gags.
Soon enough, though, amid tensions that range from relationship woes to (in Little Rock’s case) growing pains, the sisters unexpectedly take off, a device that allows the quartet to go on further adventures, and not incidentally, introduce an assortment of oddball characters.
The newcomers include Madison (a scene-stealing Zoey Deutch, most recently seen in Netflix’s “The Politician”), who, Tallahassee grumbles, doesn’t have enough brains to provide zombies with more than a snack; and Nevada (Rosario Dawson), who possesses the sort of self-sufficient grit that even turns Tallahassee’s gnarled head.
Director Ruben Fleischer (“Venom”) reunites with “Deadpool” writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick from the first movie (they’re joined by “The Expendables'” Dave Callaham), and the vibe mirrors “Deadpool’s” irreverence, combining head-splattering action — including newly evolved strains of zombies — with a whole lot of rude bickering.
It’s mostly fun, but runs into a few tired stretches, perhaps in part because the whole “Family is what you make of it” formula — Columbus even says “We’re your family” early on — is more explicit, and hence predictable, from the jump here.
Zombies, of course, have assumed a rather over-sized role in pop culture, and one of the throwaway gags has Eisenberg reading a “The Walking Dead” comic. (The series, which premiered in 2010, presumably never got made.)
“Double Tap” features plenty of clever callbacks to the first movie, an overachiever given its modest budget that has gained in stature, and cultish devotion, over the years.
Not that there was a pressing need for a return engagement, but just being able to reassemble the old gang– this once — was reason enough for “Zombieland” to rise again. Besides, as Columbus says, in crazy times, “Enjoy the little things.”
“Zombieland: Double Tap” premieres Oct. 18 in the US. It’s rated R.