[Editor’s note: The following post contains spoilers for “Zombieland: Double Tap.”]
Halfway through Ruben Fleischer’s long-awaited “Zombieland” sequel, “Zombieland: Double Tap,” the seemingly inevitable happens: someone mentions Bill Murray. It’s not a happy memory for anyone involved. In the original 2009 film, the beloved comedian played himself in an amusing cameo, welcoming the film’s core four (Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone, and Abigail Breslin) into his Hollywood mansion after a long journey. Murray (again, as himself) has survived the zombie plague by utilizing his acting talents for a fresh role: he pretends to be a zombie, all the better to keep the brain-gobblers confused. It’s a classic zombie movie trick, but one thrown into total disarray when Eisenberg’s notoriously jumpy Columbus is spooked by a costumed Murray, who amiably waddles into his swanky screening room to surprise Columbus and Breslin’s Little Rock.
Columbus shoots him dead, thus knocking off one more red-blooded human and a Hollywood legend to boot. It’s one of the best gags of the film, an instant classic that inevitably led to plenty of chatter about Murray’s possible return for the long-gestating sequel. Could Murray finally be a real zombie?
He’s not, but he is something of a looming specter in “Double Tap.” When the gang meets up with Rosario Dawson’s character (first known simply as Nevada, because she’s not giving anyone more details about her life other than her home state), she jokes that she nearly “Murray-ed” Columbus, almost shooting him when he appears in her Elvis-themed Hound Dog Hotel, and she mistakes him for a zombie. Columbus, understandably, is a little put-out by the use of the term — to kill a human you mistakingly believe to be a “z” — and tries to play it cool when feisty Nevada makes it clear she’d happily kill the guy who offed Murray. Columbus, of course, is only barely able to hide that he’s the bad guy, a winking in-joke for the audience.
And, still, Murray doesn’t appear — until the film’s single post-credits scene, introduced by way of one of Eisenberg’s signature self-reflexive voiceovers, where Columbus explains to the audience that really, there was no way they could make another “Zombieland” without Murray. Presumably hamstrung by the lack of emotional pop Murray-as-a-zombie could deliver after all this time — we know what he’s like as a fake zombie, and it’s good! — Fleischer and screenwriters Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick, and Dave Callaham opt for a smart twist on the now-standard post-credits scene, using it as a prologue to their story, one centered on Murray himself.
It’s Day Zero of the zombie apocalypse, and Murray is spending his day the way so many big stars do: at a press junket for his latest film. In the real, non-“Zombieland” world, Murray only starred in a pair of animated Garfield films (Murray has, quite amusingly, claimed that he only did the films because he thought the screenwriter Joel Cohen was Joel Coen. But in “Double Tap,” he’s completed a third go-round as the lasagna-loving housecat (this one: “Garfield 3: Flabby Tabby”) and now he’s expected to chat about it with the press. In true Murray style, he’s not very into it. And that’s before everyone starts asking him to pretend to hack up a Garfield hairball.
Set at random hotel (as so many junkets typically are), the post-credits scene follows both a downtrodden Murray and a group of reporters (including recognizable talking heads like NBC’s Al Roker and MTV’s Josh Horowitz) as they cycle through five-minute video interviews, all of which inevitably end in a request for Murray to imitate a cat vomiting up some of his fur. The glamour of Hollywood!
As Murray is hacking away, a game Roker joins him, but at some point during the horrifying hack-a-thon, Roker’s choking turns real. And then Roker himself turns into a zombie. While he might not be the patient zero, he’s the starting point for a massive outbreak during the “Garfield 3” junket, and as the rest of the press clan and video village turns into vomiting, screaming, brain-hungry monsters, it’s Murray who makes it his business to kill anyone who comes across his path. And, yes, that includes Roker and Horowitz, along with plenty of other junket-goers milling around the event.
From plates to giant silver platters, Murray fights his way through the horde, upping the film’s (already quite high) zombie body count, never stopping to question just what the hell is going on. It’s easy to see why he survived so long, at least until itchy-fingered Columbus got to him. His best weapon? A large, hard-backed poster of “Garfield 3,” the (fake) film finally proving useful to someone.
And, yes, it ends as only a Garfield-centric gag could, with a deadpan Murray telling the camera, “I hate Mondays.”
“Zombieland: Double Tap” is in theaters now.