Zombieland: Madison Is the Best (and Worst) Part of Double Tap

WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for Zombieland: Double Tap, in theatres now.

Zombieland: Double Tap reintroduces the survivors from the original film, putting them back into zombie apocalypse for another adventure across the ruins of the United States along with a number of new characters. Among them, Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson) and Wichita (Emma Stone) are forced to travel alongside the peppy and chatty, Madison (Zoey Deutch) as they search for Little Rock (Abigail Breslin).

Madison is actually an interesting idea, bringing a completely different perspective to the narrative and the world. But she's also indicative of the underlying problems of the film as a whole.

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Madison is introduced as a surprise survivor of Zombieland. Whereas most of the other survivors have had to become tough warriors so as to have any chance of making it out alive, Madison spent years hiding away in a locked mall. She was able to avoid much of the carnage that took over the world, which gives her a more carefree and optimistic outlook on life (along with far less intelligence regarding dealing with zombies). That's not an inherently bad idea, especially as she helps save the lives of the other survivors at various points in the film. She's not useless, she's just unprepared for the world at large around her.

This actually helps make her a compelling contrast to Wichita. The pair, beyond their dislike fueled by the love triangle they've ended up in with Columbus, have some general personality incompatibility. The street smart but outwardly cold Wichita finds a surprising rival in the bubbly but overwhelmed Madison, and she can't believe that. There are even hints that, while she still finds her annoying, Wichita ends up developing at least a begrudging appreciation for what Madison brings to the table. The jokes at Madison's expense come less frequently as the film continues, and Madison departs the group on seemingly good terms. In theory, she could be an intriguing wrinkle on the team and the perfect figure to upset the balance that has been found within the group.

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The main problem with Madison is that the script doesn't seem to really care about her as a character. She's used more as a means to an end, whether that's to escalate more drama between Columbus and Wichita or to be the target of tired jokes from Wichita and Tallahassee. None of the jokes about Madison (which tend to be surface-level gags about how she's an airhead who packs too much for the trip) require any character or observation. There's no point to the jokes, except to say mean things in an attempt to get a laugh. It becomes old, very quickly.

If there had been more at the core of Madison, then things might have been better. Zoey Deutch proves to be a strong comic performer, finding a solid mix of character tics and a willingness to throw herself into some slapstick physical comedy. But the character she's given doesn't have any of the kind of material that could make her an engaging character. There aren't any desires or wants from Madison. She doesn't have any real purpose in the story beyond existing, and that, unfortunately, makes what could have potentially been a very interesting character into a dead weight that exists to slow down the film for jokes that would have felt tired even over a decade ago.

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The fact that Madison works at all largely comes down to Deutch. She's able to make her character comes across as genuine and innocent enough to paper over at least some of her role's flaws. She seems to actually like Columbus, and not in a "pure desperation" sort of way. She listens when he talks and she thinks he's funny. Some of the pratfalls she takes are also fairly funny, as is her growing concern for the group. But there's a lack of depth to her and her character that makes everything feel hollow.

It's the same overall problem the film has as a whole. The attention has gone into the jokes and not much else. The idea of someone surviving the zombie apocalypse through completely different means than the main cast is a compelling character beat, especially against the overarching narrative theme of people changing and learning to live with that. The cast is strong enough to play all that character work while still being hilarious. But the script can't, so instead we're left with talented performers taking characters that could have been genuinely interesting and using them to tell jokes about dumb blondes.

Directed by Ruben Fleischer from a script by Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick and David Callaham, Zombieland: Double Tap stars Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone, Jesse Eisenberg and Abigail Breslin. The film is in theatres now.

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