In 2009, “Zombieland” became an instant cult classic, launching Jesse Eisenberg and Emma Stone as Hollywood leads, proving Woody Harrelson’s incredible staying power and even whacking Bill Murray in a delicious zombie cameo.
This weekend, the geographical gang of Columbus, Wichita, Tallahassee and Little Rock return for “Zombieland: Double Tap,” a horror-comedy sequel that may not live up to the original, but still provides plenty of brain-munching laughs.
We pick up 10 years after the zombie apocalypse began, as survivor Columbus (Eisenberg) and girlfriend Tallahassee (Stone) hole up in the abandoned White House. Sleeping in the Lincoln Bedroom, Columbus proposes with the Hope Diamond, adding pressure to their relationship, while Tallahassee (Harrelson) tries to stop his adopted daughter Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) from eloping.
There’s a magical time-warp quality to seeing Stone and Eisenberg back in their pre-stardom roles. Before “Zombieland,” they played support in “The Squid and the Whale” (2005) and “Superbad” (2007). After “Zombieland,” they landed huge roles in “The Social Network” (2010), “The Help” (2011), “Now You See Me” (2013) and “Birdman” (2014), even winning an Oscar for “La La Land” (2016).
Together, they have a ball with their reunion, Eisenberg talking fast as ever and Stone spitting her signature sarcasm. In one particular scene, Stone squints her eyes and crinkles her nose to call a romantic rival “adorable” when her tone of voice suggests the opposite. Such chemistry will linger long after we forget their Lex Luthor (“Batman v. Superman”) and Gwen Stacy (“Amazing Spider-Man”).
Still, it’s Harrelson who steals the show as the macho, throwback gunslinger appalled at the wimp-ification of society. Mostly, he takes pot shots at a ditsy blonde named Madison (Zoey Deutch), who oscillates between sidesplitting and annoying, recalling Isla Fisher’s “stage-five clinger” in “Wedding Crashers” (2005). “She’s alive because zombies eat brains,” Harrelson jokes. He prefers tough, capable women like Nevada, played with spitfire grit by Rosario Dawson.
Nevada’s arrival comes during a detour to Elvis’ Jungle Room at Graceland, which joins the White House as famous residences that now sit abandoned in post-apocalyptic desolation. Not only do they make for sweet scenic backdrops, Harrelson ties them together with a Colt 45 that Elvis gifted Nixon — see “Elvis & Nixon” (2016). You just know this gun will fire before we reach the zombie finale at a commune called Babylon, standing in for the carnival climax of the first film.
It’s all doled out by screenwriter Dave Callaham (“The Expendables”), who teams with original “Zombieland” scribes Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, the duo behind “Deadpool” (2016). The trio keeps the laughs coming with hilarious zingers and unexpected sight gags (seat belts everyone!). Best of all are cutaways to folks around the world finding creative ways to earn “Zombie Kill of the Year.” The more elaborate the better, including one in Italy that’ll have the crowd roaring.
Also returning is original “Zombieland” director Ruben Fleischer (“Venom”), who makes great use of superimposed text detailing the “Rules of Zombieland.” No 1 is “Cardio,” reminding us to stay in shape to outrun zombies, while No. 2 is “Double Tap,” reminding us to shoot a zombie twice for good measure. At one point, the rules combat each other in rapid-fire succession. Other times, the text interacts with the characters, crumbling away at the protruding action on screen.
Such directorial choices are instant signals that this is a film that doesn’t take itself too seriously, nor should it. If you somehow missed the first one, this franchise doesn’t focus on jump scares. It’s content being a horror-comedy spoof like “Shaun of the Dead” (2004) or “Warm Bodies” (2013), borrowing from Edgar Wright’s joke of “bizarro world” doppelgängers (providing juicy cameos here).
Once the credits roll, don’t bolt for the exits. There is a surprising mid-credits sequence that fans of all ages will love for its numerous pop culture references. In the end, list makers will always hold up the original “Zombieland” when it comes time for all-time genre rankings, but in the moment, it’s a worthy sequel that is a guaranteed to make for a fun night out to the movies this Halloween.