ZOMBIELAND: DOUBLE TAP. I liked Zombieland (2009) well enough: Its clever, comic tone, distinctive characters, strong performances and self-assured but restrained visual style made it stand out. Enough so that I came away hoping director Ruben Fleisher might be at the vanguard of some burgeoning action-comedy movement. Not so, as it turns out. And, though I have found elements to admire in his subsequent work (I've missed the TV episodes), I've felt mainly disappointed that none have lived up to the promise of his debut. Maybe it was an example of new blood rising to the occasion and exceeding expectations, or the apparently elusive combination of material and talent producing the alchemical miracle that is an unexpected good movie. Zombieland holds up (I rewatched it recently), despite my overarching disinterest in zombies and the fact that it doesn't have much of a plot. It works because writers Rhett Resse and Paul Wernick (who went on to some acclaim with the Deadpool movies) take care with their characters, building cinematic types into nuanced and troubled individuals. We spend more time hanging out with those characters, getting to know them and understanding their dynamics, than we do thinking about the next turn in the narrative road. So when a fun twist or cameo comes our way, it's all the more enjoyable, a delicious addition instead of a necessity.
I wondered if and how a sequel would be able to pull off the same blithe, road-movie looseness while adding to the story. At least part of the answer, it would seem, would be in reuniting the original cast (Abigail Breslin, Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson and Emma Stone) with the original core creative team (Fleischer, Reese and Wernick). Apparently, fans have been clamoring for a sequel for the last decade (who knew?) but Harrelson was the hold-out, insisting that the creators return. Good on him.
And, like most sequels of note, Zombieland: Double Tap satisfies by delivering a just-right balance of what we're used to with a little more story to be told.
Following the events of the first installment, our four protagonists have decamped to the White House, where they've secured a perimeter and live some semblance of a normal life. Columbus (Eisenberg) and Wichita (Stone) have settled into comfortable, if not blissful domesticity, and Tallahassee (Harrelson) has embraced the role of surrogate dad to Little Rock (Breslin). People being people, though, and this being a sequel, the center cannot hold. Wichita and Little Rock steal off in the dead of night, Columbus takes up with an attractive ditz he meets at the mall (Zoey Deutch, who steals almost all of her scenes) and Tallahassee threatens to move on alone. He doesn't, of course, because they have to get the band back together to rescue Little Rock from a bunch of odious neo-hippies (and, naturally, the marauding super-zombies that have sprung up since last time). Luke Wilson and Thomas Middleditch pop up as comic doppelgangers, as does Rosario Dawson, as the caretaker of Elvis' legacy and the probable love of Tallahassee's life.
Double Tap doesn't really do anything new with the formula and that's OK. Because it is deceptively well written, perhaps better acted and directed with a light enough touch not to get in the way, it makes for a pleasant, if not necessarily surprising entertainment that stands out among the major studio stuff. These days, that's saying something. R. 93M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK
THE LAUNDROMAT. In Steven Soderbergh's "retirement," he's been adding to an already formidable catalog with some of the most interesting, challenging, watchable movies of his career. And he has spoken more cogently on the ongoing death of cinema and the rise of streaming than just about anybody else, somehow balancing the values of the old guard with a sense of adventure and experimentation that we would all do well to embrace. Plus, he likes to go after establishments "too big to fail" and poke holes in them, reveling as they deflate. I can get behind that.
This time re-teaming with brilliant writer Scott Z. Burns, Soderbergh does a hyper-stylized take on the 2016 data leak known as the Panama Papers. Told in large part directly into camera by the evil dirtbags primarily responsible: Jürgen Mossack (Gary Oldman) and Ramón Fonseca (Antonio Banderas), attorneys who operated a law firm the primary function of which was to create and organize shell companies as tax avoidance apparatus for the Very Wealthy. Caught up in all of this is a retiree from Michigan (Meryl Streep) who, having lost her husband in an accident, becomes curious how exactly the insurer in question can simply walk away from a claim involving the deaths of more than 20 people. No fair guessing.
The Laundromat is one of the most entertaining, breezy movies of the year; it's also one of the most disturbing. In dissecting the nature of centralized wealth in the modern world and the way in which democracy has been thereby all but bought and sold, Burns and Soderbergh present a bleak study (the organ trafficking, rescinded hush money and murder don't help — fucking rich people, indeed), but somehow one not entirely without hope. R. 135M. NETFLIX.
John J. Bennett is a movie nerd who loves a good car chase and prefers he/him pronouns.
Listings for Broadway and Mill Creek were not available at press time. See showtimes at www.northcoastjournal.com or call: Broadway Cinema 443-3456; Fortuna Theatre 725-2121; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre 822-3456; Richards' Goat Miniplex 630-5000.
A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984). Freddy Krueger, it turns out 30 years later, is not the worst man to get a comeback. R. 91M. BROADWAY.
BLACK AND BLUE. Naomie Harris stars as a rookie NOLA cop who witnesses fellow officers committing murder and winds up with a citywide bounty on her head. With Mike Colter. R. 108M. BROADWAY.
COUNTDOWN. An evil app that's accurately predicted the death of others tells a woman (Elizabeth Lail) she has three days to live. The app that's supposed to track my menstrual cycle can't even nail that down but whatever. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (2008). The Swedish vampire coming-of-age movie you didn't know you needed. R. 154M. MINOR.
THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW (1975). With shadow cast shenanigans. The anticip- ... R. 140M. MINOR.
ABOMINABLE. A girl (Chloe Bennett) and her friends (Albert Tsai, Tenzing Norgay Trainor) help a yeti with magical powers find its way from Beijing back to the mountains. PG. 97M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
AD ASTRA. James Gray's film about father and son astronauts is an action movie with feeling and intellect exploring loyalty, family, futility and hope. Beautifully filmed with Brad Pitt at his best. PG13. 124M. BROADWAY.
THE ADDAMS FAMILY. Your goth role models return in animated form. Starring Oscar Isaac and Charlize Theron. PG. 87M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
ANTHROPOCENE: THE HUMAN EPOCH. Globetrotting documentary about how humanity has altered the planet. NR. 87M. MINOR.
BECOMING NOBODY. Director Jamie Catto's biographical documentary about spiritual teacher Ram Dass. NR. 81M. MINOR.
DOWNTON ABBEY. Shhh. There's no Boris Johnson, only Maggie Smith throwing shade and sipping tea. PG. 122M. BROADWAY.
GEMINI MAN. Will Smith plays a killer pursued by his younger clone. in this action movie directed by Ang Lee. PG13. 117M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
IT CHAPTER TWO. Despite welcome flashbacks and excellent turns by Bill Hader and the terrifying Bill Skarsgård, the resolution of the Stephen King's clown horror is overloaded with exhausting jump scares and iffy subplotting. R. 169M. BROADWAY.
JEXI. Adam Devine stars as a smartphone-addicted loner whose life is taken over by a Siri gone Christine (Rose Byrne) in a funny film with stellar support from Michael Peña, Ron Funches, Charlene Yi and Wanda Sykes. R. 84M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
JOKER. The supervillain gets the sympathetic (but not vindicating) origin story treatment with an excellent and creepy Joaquin Phoenix amid a grimy, brutal Gotham. R. 121M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK, MINOR.
JUDY. Late-period biopic about Judy Garland (Renée Zellweger) during her 1968 London engagements. Waterproof mascara recommended, kid. PG13. 118M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
MALEFICENT: MISTRESS OF EVIL. Angelina Jolie is back in the horns to block Aurora's (Elle Fanning) wedding and throw down with Michelle Pfeiffer. PG. 119M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK, MINOR.
OFFICIAL SECRETS. Keira Knightly as the woman who blew the whistle on the intelligence manipulation that led up to the Iraq War. R. 112M. MINIPLEX.
RAISE HELL: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF MOLLY IVINS. Documentary about the Texas political journalist and raiser of said hell. NR. 93M. MINIPLEX.
— Jennifer Fumiko Cahill