Tom Augustine reviews the weekend in film
What's the expiry date on a film? There's a time when the formula of a once-fresh title has become so copied in following years that the original starts to feel a little stale, particularly in the case of comedies. Zombieland: Double Tap (dir. Ruben Fleischer, R13) is a largely unnecessary sequel arriving a full decade after the heyday of the original zom-com. The first was a charmingly nasty little meta-adventure about a group of misfits who form a sort of dysfunctional family post-zombie apocalypse. It benefited from the chemistry of its cast - a collection of up-and-comers and beloved character actors - and the frequent surprises the story threw at the audience (not least the infamous Bill Murray cameo). Double Tap picks up 10 years after the original and finds the four leads - wildman Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), neurotic Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) and hard-headed sisters Little Rock and Wichita (Abigail Breslin and Emma Stone) - starting to get a little sick of each other. As the male counterparts begin to get exhaustingly overbearing, the girls take flight in the night, leaving Tallahassee and Columbus to their own devices.
Zombieland: Double Tap is pretty low-stakes throughout - there's never much of a palpable sense of danger or urgency in the boys' mission and rarely is the film all that funny or all that scary. That's a problem for a horror-comedy. There are undoubtedly diverting moments, including an inspired extended sequence at an Elvis-themed motel and the inclusion of a new team-member in Zoey Deutch's Madison, a sort-of inversion of the classic dumb-blonde horror trope who completely and totally steals every scene she's in. It's the type of committed performance that makes you wish the actor weren't stranded in such otherwise lacklustre fare. The rest of the cast are fine but fail to do anything remotely new with their roles (why Stone is even in this film, so utterly thankless is her role, is mystifying). The main issue with Double Tap is that it attempts to lean on jokes and stylistic tics that haven't felt fresh in almost a decade - trying to resurrect the lightning-in-a-bottle success of the first unfortunately only leads to a just-okay second round. Rating: Two-and-a-half stars.
Also in cinemas this week - fresh from the New Zealand International Film Festival - is the lovely and spirited Animals (dir. Sophie Hyde, R16), an Irish-Australian co-production about two young women spending their early 30s living with reckless abandon. Starring Holliday Grainger and Alia Shawkat (both remarkable), the film follows the relentless and occasionally intense relationship the two share as the weight of life's expectations begins to bear down upon them. Director Hyde crafts Animals into a mostly joyous ode to female friendship, rolling along on a sparkling, witty script that buzzes with energy and feeling. Despite a lag in the middle and the inescapable feeling of being somewhat thematically adrift, the film's amiable and infectious mood is hard to deny. Worth seeking out. Rating: Four stars.