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‘Zombieland: Double Tap’: Drop-dead funny stars breathe some life into a tired genre

10 years after the original, Emma Stone and team have somehow formed an amusingly dysfunctional family.

Little Rock (Abigail Breslin), Wichita (Emma Stone), Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson) and Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) remain a team taking on the undead in “Zombieland: Double Tap.”
Columbia Pictures

Much has happened since the release of the bloody funny hipster hit “Zombieland” in the fall of 2009.

Emma Stone is an Academy Award winner. Abigail Breslin is no longer a kid. Woody Harrelson and Jesse Eisenberg — well, Harrelson still livens up any project he appears in, and Eisenberg continues to specialize in playing fast-talking geeks trying to keep up with their mile-a-minute brains.

We’ve also been inundated with zombie movies and TV shows, including many satirical takes. This makes it all the more challenging for “Zombieland: Double Tap” to come up with something fresh and different — and frankly, the challenge is rarely met. Save for a few moments of brain-splattering inspiration here and there, much of this tale has a “been there, killed that” vibe. Even some of the zombies look like they’re going through the motions.

And yet “Double Tap” just made it over the fence from two and a half to three stars in my book, mostly because of how much fun it is to see the four stars from the original reunited onscreen as a dysfunctional family of sorts who are so consumed with working through their various issues, the zombies are often nothing more than annoying distractions. They’re all terrific, but Emma Stone in particular kills with a sharply honed, funny and endearing performance as the battle-tested and cynical Wichita, who is fearless when it comes to taking on zombies, but terrified when it comes to fully committing to a human connection.

We pick up the story in real time, i.e., 10 years after the events of the original film, with packs of zombies still running amok while small pockets of humans do whatever they can to survive.

Jesse Eisenberg’s Columbus, Woody Harrelson’s Tallahassee, Emma Stone’s Wichita and Abigail Breslin’s Little Rock are living comfortably and safely in the White House, with Columbus telling us in voice-over narration it’s the happiest he’s ever been, including the pre-zombie days. He’s madly in love with Wichita, while the hard-bitten Tallahassee has come to embrace his role as father figure to Little Rock.

But Columbus is the only one who isn’t restless. Tallahassee longs for the open road. Little Rock has just turned 18 and is determined to get out there and meet someone her own age. Wichita feels smothered by Columbus, especially after he proposes to her.

Wichita and Little Rock take off in the middle of the night. Columbus and Tallahassee set out to find them. We’re back on the road, which means an influx of cheerfully gruesome zombie-kill moments, self-referential pop culture comedy, and new supporting characters, including Rosario Dawson as a badass survivor and potential love interest for Tallahassee; Luke Wilson and Thomas Middleditch as zombie-hunting partners who are almost mirror images of Tallahassee and Columbus, and Zoey Deutch as Madison, a stereotypical idiot blonde straight out of a Z-grade mid-1980s rip-off of “Valley Girl.”

Every time Madison shows up, we’re actively rooting for the zombies.

P.S. When the movie ends, you’ll definitely want to stay in your seat through the credits.

I’ll say no more.