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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Since the release of the first Zombieland back in 2009, much has happened in entertainment regarding the land of the undead. A little show called The Walking Dead premiered a year later, and in 2017, the zombie maestro himself, George Romero, passed away.

Much has happened with the stars of Zombieland in the decade since, too. Emma Stone has an Oscar for La La Land; Woody Harrelson got his third nomination in that stretch; and Jesse Eisenberg was nominated for The Social Network. Abigail Breslin received an Oscar nom before the first film for Little Miss Sunshine. With all of this Oscar business, might this crew of performers opt for more snobby fare rather than blowing up ghoul skulls for laughs?

Nope. Director Ruben Fleischer returns with the whole crew shockingly intact for Zombieland: Double Tap, a film that does little to add to the genre, but still delivers plenty of laughs and zombie gore. It’s basically the same as the first movie, with a little less originality, but a few more laughs thanks to a new co-star.

The zombie killers have taken up residence in the White House, with Wichita (Stone) and Columbus (Eisenberg) in a relationship that requires them to cover the eyes on the Lincoln portrait when they bed down at night. Columbus has his sights set on marriage, while Wichita still has some commitment issues. Tallahassee (Harrelson) is still searching for Twinkies—with a new goal to visit Graceland while leaving shredded zombies in his wake. Little Rock (Breslin) wouldn’t mind having her first boyfriend, at the age of 22.

Situations arise where it all becomes a road trip again—one that eventually leads to Graceland (sort of) and a commune called Babylon that looks like one of the towers on the cover of Wilco’s classic album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.

Columbus and Tallahassee ride Segways at a ravaged mall (an ode to Romero’s Dawn of the Dead) and run into Madison (Zoey Deutch), a Valley Girl who has survived all these years living inside a freezer at the food court’s frozen-yogurt shop. Deutch is a total crack-up, mining laughs in every scene she occupies. When the film threatens to get a bit stale, Madison swoops in, donning a pink leisure suit with fake fur (she’s also a vegan) and livening things up.

Another joke that works is the late-in-the-movie entrance of Albuquerque (Luke Wilson) and Flagstaff (Thomas Middleditch), two zombie hunters who look and sound an awful lot like Columbus and Tallahassee. While thinking about this movie, I realized that Albuquerque’s monster truck and the worn-down White House remind of Wilson’s turn in Idiocracy. Don’t you love how Idiocracy has become a classic after the studio dumped it because they thought it sucked?

Sorry … I’ve gone off track.

Of the returning big stars, Harrelson appears to be having the most fun, even going so far as to provide a decent cover of “Burning Love” over the closing credits. (Stay all the way through the credits, people.) Eisenberg is doing his usual shtick, but it’s a shtick that works, while Stone being here at all is shocking to me. I mean, she’s fine in it, but it’s weird that she returned for this, right? She was in The Favourite last year!

As far as bringing new ideas to the zombie genre, I do like how Columbus designates dumb zombies as “Homers” and smart ones as “Hawkings.” There are also the “T-800” zombies, who don’t go down after the double tap and keep on coming. Otherwise, the film is pretty standard issue when it comes to zombie carnage.

Will there be another Zombieland 10 years from now? This one strikes me as a last hurrah, and an OK/fun one at that.

Zombieland: Double Tap is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

The release date of Gangster Squad was delayed after the Aurora, Colo., theater shootings, due to a scene depicting violence in a movie theater. That scene, which was featured in the trailer, has been removed.

Well, they should’ve scrapped the whole picture. This movie is a mess.

Gangster Squad depicts a fictional account of the Los Angeles Police Department’s “under the table” efforts to remove gangster Mickey Cohen (played here by a truly awful Sean Penn) from power. While next to nothing in this movie actually happened, I can forgive a little artistic license when it comes to a gangster pic.

What I can’t forgive is cartoon caricatures, terrible performances, a misguided directorial tone and a crappy screenplay.

The film is set in 1949 Los Angeles, where Cohen has a firm grip on organized crime and the cops. Well-meaning LAPD Chief Parker (a typically grizzly Nick Nolte) tells brave Sgt. John O’Mara (Josh Brolin) to leave his badge at home; gather a squad of badasses; and disrupt Cohen’s operations.

The squad includes soft-voiced Sgt. Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling), an officer who plays with his lighter a lot. There’s also the brainiac (Giovanni Ribisi) who will spend much of the movie wearing headphones and tinkering with things.

There’s the knife-wielding officer, Coleman Harris (Anthony Mackie), who will throw a knife at someone’s hand in a crowded nightclub, even though he’s a cop and probably shouldn’t be doing things like that. And, finally, there’s the comic-book hero (Robert Patrick) and his sidekick (Michael Peña), two wisecracks who are great with their guns.

Director Ruben Fleischer is shooting for an authentic late-’40s gangster-film feel, he but achieves something more akin to parody. The film feels like a bunch of usually decent actors are playing dress-up with their toy guns; they all seem lost.

Emma Stone wastes her time as perhaps the film’s most-bizarre character. She is Cohen’s etiquette coach (rather than making her a straight-up hooker), somebody who is sleeping with a monster and then two-timing him with Gosling’s Wooters.

Good luck trying to make that character sympathetic. They dress Stone in heavy makeup and flashy dresses, and feed her terrible dialogue. She’s completely wrong for the role, although I would have a hard time picking somebody right for it.

Penn has chewed scenery before (I Am Sam, Casualties of War). This time out, he doesn’t just chew the scenery; he’s a freaking wood-chipper. I appreciate Penn as an actor, but sometimes—just sometimes—he can be terrible. This is one of those times.

Regrettably, the usually reliable Gosling is just as bad, and perhaps worse. He decides to utilize a voice that makes him sound like a 12 year-old kid doing a lame James Cagney impersonation. It’s bad to the point of distraction, as is his action of constantly flipping his lighter. We get it, Ryan Gosling … you learned how to flip your lighter, ’40s style. Now knock it off.

Gangster Squad lacks originality, a sense of purpose, style, class, Michael Keaton (although it feels like his Johnny Dangerously character could pop out any moment) and a basic overall reason for being. The problem wasn’t the violent movie-theater scene they had to excise. The whole damn thing stinks. 

Gangster Squad is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews