Ruben Fleischer

Zombieland: Double Tap

27/10/19

It’s hard to believe that ten years have passed since the first Zombieland film – and, while the original came as a breath of fresh air amidst the unseemly scramble of leaden undead movies that hit the screens around that time, it’s probably fair to say that there weren’t too many punters desperate to see a sequel. But you have to take your hat off to director Ruben Fleischer, who not only persuaded somebody to finance this, but also got the four lead players to reprise their roles.

A decade has passed for the quartet of survivors too, who – when we first encounter them – are moving into their new headquarters: the White House. Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) and Witchita (Emma Stone) are now a couple, while Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson) has taken on a fatherly role towards Little Rock (Abgail Breslin). But LR’s at a difficult age, starting to long for a little ‘me time’ and, when Columbus rashly proposes marriage to Wichita, she too feels a little hemmed in. So the two women hit the road, looking for new horizons.

Complications occur when LR encounters a wandering hippie (Avan Joggia) with a guitar and a repetoire of popular rock songs, which he claims to have written. She falls promptly under his spell and runs off with him to a hippie community where weapons are banned, dumping Wichita in the process. Wichita returns to the two men but, in her absence, Columbus has hooked up with Madison (Zoey Deutch), an airheaded valley girl, who has improbably managed to stay alive (and meticulously clean) in the midst of all the carnage. Despite the awkward situation, the four of them head out on LR’s trail.

Double Tap is undoubtedly fun – a silly, good-natured addition to what went before – but, like so many sequels, it struggles to add anything new to the mix. Here, there’s an attempt to suggest that the zombies are evolving from the simple shuffling ‘Homers’ of the original story to ‘T-800s,’ leaner, meaner and harder to kill – and there’s a loosely knit story arc about the importance of family – but, ultimately, that’s not really enough to justify this as a film in its own right. And some of the internal logic of the tale really doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

The laughs come easily enough and there are sly references to things that occurred in episode one. The cartoon violence is unashamedly visceral (unleash these levels of slaughter at human victims and that 15 rating might need to be raised a notch) and there’s an interesting new character in the shape of Rosario Dawson, as a woman with a major Elvis Presley fixation.

So yes, it’s no hardship to watch – but it isn’t destined to linger very long in the memory.

3.6 stars

Philip Caveney

Venom

09/10/18

First, the good news. Venom isn’t quite as terrible as everybody is saying.

The bad news? It still isn’t great.

Indeed, watching this unfold, I can’t help wondering what it was about the project that tempted top drawer actors like Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams and Riz Ahmed to hop aboard for the ride. It can’t just have been the size of the pay check. Can it? I mean, surely they must have thought the end result would be… well, better than this?

Events start (as they so often do in such stories) with a spaceship crashing in East Malaysia. Billionaire scientist Carlton Drake (Ahmed) has despatched it to a remote asteroid to collect some alien life forms. In the ensuing chaos, one of the captive creatures manages to escape after latching on to a human host. (Yes, I know. So far, so dreadfully familiar.) Drake manages to salvage the other ‘symbiotes,’ as he dubs them, and has them brought to his state-of-the-art laboratory in San Francisco, where he sets about experimenting on them by unleashing them into a succession of live hosts. At first he contents himself with cuddly bunny rabbits but, despite all of his top scientists advising against it, he quickly progresses to homeless people, whom he’s duped into helping him with his ‘research programme.’ Drake, as you’ll have gathered, is not a very nice man. He’s hoping that he’ll find a perfect match, creating a human-alien hybrid, but his first attempts are… messy, to say the very least.

Meanwhile, freewheeling investigative reporter, Eddie Brock (Hardy), tries to do a filmed exposé on Drake, but soon discovers that the man has enough power to get him unceremoniously fired from his job. The problem is, Eddie has ‘borrowed’ some information from the files of his fiancé, lawyer Anne Weying (Williams), which means that she also gets the push. She is angry enough to tell Eddie to stick his engagement ring where the sun don’t shine. Eddie is understandably miffed by all this but, when one of Drake’s employees, Dr Skirth (Jenny Slate), smuggles Eddie into the laboratory, things go spectacularly wrong. He is invaded by one of the alien creatures, endowing him with a range of formidable superpowers and some very unsavoury eating habits. Chaos ensues, as Eddie and ‘Venom’ learn to co-exist. While some of this is reasonably entertaining, the greater part of it suffers from a bad case of over-familiarity.

To give Hardy his due, he does his level best to make this unpromising material work, but the fact that he’s been asked to play things for laughs may not have been the wisest decision. His Eddie Brock is a likeable slacker, who has inadvertently been thrust into very difficult circumstances, and he handles that side of things well enough. But overlong motorbike chases and CGI tweaked punch-ups are not really Hardy’s forte. Likewise, Williams is too much of a trooper not to give this her best shot, but she really isn’t given an awful lot to do and, once again, if you have an actor of such undeniable skill, maybe give her something to convey other than bewilderment?

Like most Marvel films, this eventually heads into one of those extended animated monster-battles, which – while undoubtedly expensive – just become rather tedious to behold. Director Ruben Fleischer must have been confident that this project would fly, because the first post-credit sequence sets up a sequel featuring a very well known actor in a fright wig. I can’t help feeling this is an over-optimistic move. There aren’t  many bums on seats at the viewing I attend. If however, you do feel like hanging on through the interminable credits, it’s worth staying in your seats for a sneak peek at Spiderman: Into the Spider-Verse, an upcoming animation that, in just a few minutes, manages to knock spots off everything that’s gone before. Maybe Sony Pictures decided they needed to salvage something from the wreckage. Or maybe they’re just proud of their new baby.

Venom is ultimately one for the Marvel-heads – and only the most diehard amongst them, I think. It really didn’t rock my world. Oh, and – of course – there’s a Stan Lee cameo. There’s always a Stan Lee cameo. Don’t worry, it’s mercifully brief.

2.8 stars

Philip Caveney