Movie Review ~ Tag


The Facts
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Synopsis: One month every year, five highly competitive friends hit the ground running in a no-holds- barred game of tag they’ve been playing since the first grade.

Stars: Ed Helms, Jake Johnson, Annabelle Wallis, Rashida Jones, Isla Fisher, Leslie Bibb, Hannibal Buress, Jon Hamm, Jeremy Renner

Director: Jeff Tomsic

Rated: R

Running Length: 100 minutes

TMMM Score: (3/10)

Review: In their marketing, the studio releasing Tag is making a big deal of pointing out it’s based on a true story which, miraculously, is correct.  That’s the first and last genuine thing about Tag, a dreary supposed comedy that manages to take an interesting kernel of inspiration and turn it into a childish game no one will want to play a second round of.  Based on a story first reported in a 2013 Wall Street Journal article (and nicely profiled in a segment on CBS Sunday Morning), the original subjects fielded so much interest in their story they quickly cashed in on a deal for Hollywood to buy the rights to their curiously ongoing game.

Tag uses the basic premise of the shenanigans and takes heavy liberties with the storytelling as it follows five forever friends that have been playing the same game of tag one month each year for over three decades.  When one of the members who has never been “It” decides to quit, the other four scramble to get their hands on him before the month is up.  Problems arise when the quartet arrives to find their tricky target in the middle of his wedding weekend…but will that keep them from doing anything and everything they can to pass the touch and break his winning streak?

Oof…where to start with this?  Proving the bro-tastic juvenile antics of middle aged men in arrested development is a genre that’s still alive and kicking (even after the diminishing returns of The Hangover trilogy), Tag is a rare film that produces absolutely no likable characters for any audience member to latch onto.  None.  Starting at the top, there’s the usually affable Ed Helms (Vacation) as Hoagie, a sad-sack holder of the eternal tag flame who seemingly does nothing but wait until the yearly event to get his game on.  At the start of the film, he’s applying for a job as a janitor just to be able to tag his corporate friend Bob (Jon Hamm, Million Dollar Arm) and get him onboard with the  plot to tag Jerry (Jeremy Renner, The Bourne Legacy).   Your enjoyment of the film will be determined in these opening minutes between Hoagie and Bob – it’s a litmus test of how much lame-brainedness you’ll be able to take for the next hour and a half.

With Bob, Hoagie’s wife Anna (Isla Fisher, Now You See Me) and a Wall Street Journal reporter (Annabelle Wallis, Annabelle), ahem, tagging along, they recruit tag buddies Randy (Jake Johnson, The Mummy) and Kevin (Hannibal Buress, The Disaster Artist) and make their way to Washington state.  It’s there they plan to nab Jerry, who has been expecting the arrival of his old friends for one last round before he settles down with Susan (Leslie Bibb, Iron Man).  The resulting antics follow the gang as they repeatedly try to outsmart Jerry who manages to stay a few steps ahead and just out of reach.

Making his big screen directing debut, Jeff Tomsic may know his way around some cleverly staged bits of entrapment but too often he places the camera directly on his actors…someone should have told him the GoPro business is so 2012.   No one is helped by Rob McKittrick and Mark Steilen’s staid screenplay that features expected developments and one remarkably tasteless joke the film returns to so often the audience literally began loudly groaning each time it was brought up.  Director and screenwriters don’t bother fleshing out any of the characters, nor do they explain how 47 year old Hamm and Renner were in the same class as 44 year old Helms, 40 year old Johnson, or (yikes!) 35 year old Buress.

Sure, movies are allowed to be silly and we’ve totally had enough films to stock a small college dorm room DVD library featuring men behaving like children – but I guess I’m just bummed Tag didn’t aspire to be anything more than a stupid time waste.  They at least could have presented some halfway decent characters for the cast to dive into.  Johnson’s (exhausting) character is a stoner who puffs away the entire movie and then thinks he’s somehow appealing to an old flame played by Rashida Jones, Decoding Annie Parker, in a part so thankless she literally should have actually been thanked in the closing credits.  Then there’s Wallis’ reporter who just drops her story on Hamm’s questionable corporate ethics to report on this tag battle.  She must have had a giant per diem she’s willing to blow as she hops around the west coast with a group of dumbbells.

Aside from Bibb’s entertaining but slightly manic turn as Renner’s fiance, the only person that manages to eek a shred of kudos here is Fisher.  By-laws prevent “girls” (ugh) from playing so she’s the pitbull wife egging her husband and his friends on, all the while gnashing her teeth in desperation at wanting to play.  Her foul-mouthed rages provide some muted laughs and much like her role in Keeping Up with the Joneses (another one Hamm snoozed his way through) she’s proven more than capable of being the most interesting person onscreen.  Come to think of it, I’d have much rather seen a female version of this story…but maybe we’ll get a remake in 10 years with Sandra Bullock in Fisher’s role.

Movie Review ~ Love the Coopers

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The Facts:

Synopsis: When four generations of the Cooper clan come together for their annual Christmas Eve celebration, a series of unexpected visitors and unlikely events turn the night upside down, leading them all toward a surprising rediscovery of family bonds and the spirit of the holiday

Stars: Alan Arkin, John Goodman, Ed Helms, Diane Keaton, Jake Lacy, Anthony Mackie, Amanda Seyfried, June Squibb, Marisa Tomei, Olivia Wilde

Director: Jessie Nelson

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 107 minutes

TMMM Score: (1/10)

Review: Hold on a sec, allow me to get into full Ebenezer Scrooge mode because have I got a whopper of a turkey for you. Normally, I truly feel like the last two months of the year are, as the song says, the most wonderful time of the year. It’s a time to reunite with family, practice being ok with giving instead of receiving, and hauling out classic holiday films made more enjoyable on snowy days and chilly nights. Arriving like a lump of coal in a moldy old fruitcake, Love the Coopers is not only the worst holiday film in recent memory but one of the worst offerings of 2015. Yes, I’m counting the endless TV movies featuring a department store Santa Claus helping an exasperated female executive find love with a burly man we all know is perfect for her.

Picture a movie where every single character is miserable. They don’t like their family, they can’t stand their friends, they basically hate their lives. Now imagine its set during Christmas and filled with every lame joke in the holiday handbook, from family secrets spilling out during a disastrous dinner table scene to irascible old fogies that turn wise when the movie needs a moral.

Screenwriter Steven Rogers (who, after viewing his credits on IMDb, seems to specialize in saccharine nonsensical dramedies) sketches the film as an ensemble affair with multiple storylines playing out (more like wearing out) during one jam packed day.

There’s Eleanor (Olivia Wilde, The Lazarus Effect), who’d rather hang out at the airport bar than head home, befriending a military man (Jake Lacy, Carol, the only bright spot in the movie) before convincing him to come home with her and pretend to be her boyfriend. Ruby (Amanda Seyfried, Lovelace), a diner waitress that feels a kinship with the cantankerous old coot (Alan Arkin, Indian Summer) that frequents her section. Hank (Ed Helms, Vacation) is trying to find a way to tell his estranged wife (Alex Borstein, A Million Ways to Die in the West) that he’s lost his job and can’t afford to buy presents for their kids. Emma (Marisa Tomei, Trainwreck) is a kleptomaniac taken on the longest drive in the history of ever by a policeman with a Big Secret (Anthony Mackie, Pain & Gain).

Then we have Diane Keaton (And So It Goes) and John Goodman (Argo) as the heads of the family who can’t seem to get out of the rut they’ve been wallowing in for years. Keaton seems resigned to live in the shadow of a career that’s left her in the dust and Goodman must have needed the money to buy clothes in light of his recent weight loss. Oh…and I can’t leave out June Squibb (Nebraska, in a role I’m sure Betty White turned down) as a forgetful aunt that’s just a set-up for various sight gags and fart jokes. There’s also a narrator to the film, a device employed not only as an opportunity for a famous comedian to provide a voice for but to be a part of a twist reveal that most awake audience members will figure out early on.

The last film director Jessie Nelson released was I Am Sam in 2001 and it’s painfully obvious the dormant decade between the two films wasn’t spent in a graduate film school seeing that the film is an awkward mix of false emotional peaks and ill-conceived bits of comedy that makes the running length feel neverending. The tipping point for me was a dreadful family sing-a-long with Helms and Arkin strumming away at their guitars without the vaguest hint of knowing irony. Another particularly painful passage was the aforementioned police car ride where Tomei tries to psychoanalyze stoic cop Mackie, leading to a left-field admission that’s not only offensive but downright tacky.

Love the Coopers seems destined to be that awful holiday entertainment that that one good friend of yours (hopefully not a loved one) claims to be their ‘favorite’ film and forces you to watch with them. Take my advice and resist the urge to bask in the glow of doing something kind for others and think only of yourself…and stay far away from this stinker.

Movie Review ~ Vacation

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Rusty Griswold takes his own family on a road trip to “Walley World” in order to spice things up with his wife and reconnect with his sons.

Stars: Ed Helms, Christina Applegate, Leslie Mann, Beverly D’Angelo, Skyler Gisondo, Steele Stebbins, Chris Hemsworth, Chevy Chase

Director: John Francis Daley, Jonathan M. Goldstein

Rated: R

Running Length: 99 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (6.5/10)

Review: Like the memories of a long-ago family road trip, watching the National Lampoon’s Vacation movies have a special place in my mind.  I’ll never forget hearing my dad howl with laughter watching Chevy Chase strap a dead body to his car in the original Vacation from 1983.  I also remember my parents fumbling with the VCR remote to fast forward through some of the racier parts of 1985’s European Vacation.  And I can’t count how many memories are associated with the multiple annual viewings of 1989’s Christmas Vacation. Vegas Vacation from 1997?  Eh, I think I saw it on an airplane once…and I won’t even deign to watch the 2003 TV Movie Christmas Vacation 2: Cousin Eddie’s Island Adventure.

So you have to understand that I approached this reboot/sequel of the Vacation franchise with a side eye glance and full on arched eyebrows.  While the franchise didn’t have a spotless track record I didn’t want another inferior sequel to sully the good times of the past.  Gradually, I started to come around once the casting came together and several funnier-than-they-should-have-been previews were released.  Still…what’s to say that all the funny bits weren’t crammed into the trailers just to get unsuspecting butts in seats?

Well, the summer Vacation of 2015 is a nice throwback to the one that started it all and while many of the funny bits were tipped off in early trailers, I’m pleased to report that most of these jokes are taken a step further in the finished product and it has a healthy amount of raucous material heretofore yet unseen.

Is the ride clear of bumps?  Oh goodness no.  Thankfully, the film is so packed with gags (and a few gag worthy moments) that these rough patches are cleared in time for a better joke to land.

Rusty Griswold (Ed Helms, We’re the Millers, another in a long line of actors that have played the character, something the film delightful acknowledges) is, like his dad, a hard-working family man that just wants to eek out the best kind of life for his wife and two sons.  Working as a pilot in a bargain airline, he looks forward to the family togetherness of a yearly summer cabin retreat.  This year is going to be different, though.  Noticing a lack of excitement in the same old routine and feeling nostalgic for his family trips, he ditches the cabin idea and invests in a tricked out rental car to carry his tribe to Walley World…the destination of the first film that paved the comedic way for all trips to come.

Rusty’s wife (Christina Applegate, a good straight-man, er, woman, to Helms’s dopey simpleton) wished for a Paris trip for two but goes along with her husband’s plans in hopes of reigniting a spark in their marriage.  Their sons are post-pubescent Skyler Gisondo (Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb), a hopeless romantic, and pre-pubescent Steele Stebbins, a foul-mouthed nightmare that lives to torture his older brother.  All three would rather be anywhere else than road-tripping it across the country with the good natured head of their family.

As in the original, the road to Walley World isn’t an easy one and the Griswolds encounter a host of comedic roadblocks along the way…from hazardous waste ponds to a drunken sorority charity event to a detour to meet up with Rusty’s sister Audrey (Leslie Mann, The Other Woman) and her bo-hunk husband (Chris Hemsworth, Cabin in the Woods, who gets the best visual joke with the most, um, girth).   There are nice nods to the first film that I won’t spoil here and while it starts to run out of steam near the finale the ride up to that point has been more memorable than you’d care to admit.

Ironically, the worst part of this new Vacation are the two holdovers from all of the previous films…Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo.  Popping up late in the game to offer some unnecessary words of wisdom, it’s a sequence that was included with the best of intentions but comes off as superfluous, especially considering that this film seeks to establish itself on its own four wheels.  It doesn’t help that Chase looks like he took one too many extra scoops of mashed potatoes and D’Angelo’s plastic surgeon went a little wild with the Botox.

Directors and co-writers John Francis Daley & Jonathan M. Goldstein (The Incredible Burt Wonderstone) start things off with a laugh in a fun (if low-brow) credit sequence and keep things light, there’s no villain of the film and the only problems that pop up are of the Griswold’s own making.  Helms and Applegate are terrific comedians and don’t oversell the material – here’s hoping this Vacation is well received to get a holiday sequel on the books.

 

The Silver Bullet ~ Vacation (2015)

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Synopsis: Rusty Griswold takes his own family on a road trip to “Walley World” in order to spice things up with his wife and reconnect with his sons.

Release Date: July 29, 2015

Thoughts: As a huge fan of the original National Lampoon’s Vacation, I was dying a little inside when I heard that a remake was getting started over at Warner Brothers. Why would they need to remake a movie that had such a solid foothold in the comedy pantheon and served as the basis for many an imitation in the years to come? Fears were assuaged a bit when it was revealed this was less of a remake but more of a reboot/sequel with Rusty Griswold trying to relive one of the best trips of his life with his own family. The first trailer for the 2015 Vacation looks promising and I’m solidly behind stars Ed Helms (We’re The Millers) and Christina Applegate. Nice to see that Rusty’s parents (Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo) make a cameo in it as well. There’s also our first look at a much talked about sight gag, courtesy of Chris Hemworth (Avengers: Age of Ultron).

The Silver Bullet ~ Stretch

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Synopsis: A hard-luck limo driver struggling to go straight and pay off a debt to his bookie takes on a job with a crazed passenger whose sought-after ledger implicates some seriously dangerous criminals.

Release Date:  TBA 2014

Thoughts: I’d like to have some sympathy for Patrick Wilson but after starring in a string of modest budget box office hits like The Conjuring, Insidious, and Insidious: Chapter 2 I don’t think the actor is necessarily hurting for work or to pay his bills. Still, whenever I see any actor given the chance to lead a film that’s then pretty much dumped by its studio like Stretch was (it’s OnDemand now) I have to admit my cold Grinch-y heart breaks a little. Directed by Joe Carnahan (The Grey) and co-starring Ed Helms (We’re the Millers) and Jessica Alba (Sin City: A Dame to Kill For) I’ve no doubt all involved will solider on to other projects that will be given a better chance at survival.

Movie Review ~ We’re the Millers

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The Facts
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Synopsis: A veteran pot dealer creates a fake family as part of his plan to move a huge shipment of weed into the U.S. from Mexico.

Stars: Jennifer Aniston, Jason Sudeikis, Emma Roberts, Nick Offerman, Kathryn Hahn, Will Poulter, Ed Helms

Director: Rawson Marshall Thurber

Rated: R

Running Length: 110 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: Though the preview for We’re the Millers had some decent laughs in it, I was still sitting squarely on the fence when it came time to take in this cross country comedy.  If it was merely going to be a series of open road foibles then why couldn’t I just stay home and watch National Lampoon’s Vacation for the umpteenth time?  Then a strong desire to see a gleefully R-rated film overtook me and I found myself laughing more than I thought I would at a movie that’s better than it should be.

Making a strong showing in his years on Saturday Night Live, Jason Sudekis (The Campaign) hasn’t quite cracked the Hollywood code up to this point so I was surprised to see how confidentially he carried this film.  As a run-of-the-mill small time drug dealer, Sudekis has a believable charm that helps him navigate a very thin first act that finds him running afoul of a dorky drug kingpin (Ed Helms, The Hangover Part III) and being forced into smuggling drugs from Mexico back to Denver.  To do that, he enlists the help of a stripper (Jennifer Aniston, Wanderlust), a nebbish teen (Will Poulter), and a scrappy homeless girl (Emma Roberts).  As the Millers they make it easy into Mexico but, as is expected, find there’s a rough road ahead on the way back.

Look, this set-up isn’t going to blow your mind and if you can’t see where it’s all headed then you need to have your eyes examined.  What makes the film work on some mystical level is that it has its head in the right place and its heart following close behind.  Director Rawson Marshall Thurber’s last notable cinematic effort was nearly a decade ago with 2004’s odious Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story and this film is leaps and bounds better.  Dodgeball was a stinker because it didn’t know what to do with its crude and crass trump cards (it didn’t help that it was appallingly homophobic) but We’re the Millers seems to have the deck stacked in its favor.

So yes, the movie earns its R rating with f-bombs a plenty, tons of sexual innuendo and a bit of graphic nudity that actually gets the laughs so many films miss out on but it’s also enjoyably funny in a harmless way.  That’s thanks to chemistry between Sudekis and Aniston – chemistry that’s been sorely missing in other Aniston-led films.  Credit must also go to supporting performers like Kathryn Hahn (The Dictator) that at times threaten to steal the movie out from under our stars.  Hahn works her way through the script by Bob Fisher, Steve Faber, Sean Anders, and John Morris and makes some trivial material hysterically funny (make sure to stay through the end credits for more of Hahn’s genius).  Hot on her heels is Nick Offerman as her square husband that gradually reveals a kinky side.  Poulter and Roberts too fit in nicely with the more established comedic stars.

Sure, if you think too hard about it you’re going to find the film has its shortcomings (like how Aniston is a stripper in a club where conveniently no one gets naked) but they are small road blocks on an otherwise well-made and agreeable journey.  It’s not a movie I’d pay full price for but it’s worth the matinee rates or at least a rental down the road.

Movie Review ~ The Hangover Part III

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The Facts:

Synopsis: This time, there’s no wedding. No bachelor party. What could go wrong, right? But when the Wolfpack hits the road, all bets are off.

Stars: Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis, Ken Jeong, Heather Graham, Jeffrey Tambor, Justin Bartha, John Goodman, Sasha Barrese, Gillian Vigman, Jamie Chung

Director: Todd Phillips

Rated: R

Running Length: 100 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (3/10)

Review:  First things first…this final chapter in The Hangover trilogy is much better than the hypnotically awful second entry from 2011.  Still, the old adage that good things come in threes doesn’t apply here to a film that has a scant handful of laughs and goes out with a small guffaw.  When The Hangover was released in 2009, it was an overnight hit that built on strong word of mouth with each passing week.  I’ve revisited that film a few times over the years and while it doesn’t quite hold up as well with repeated viewings, it’s hard to deny that there were a lot of good ideas that landed above expectations thanks to smart writing and interesting performances.

As is widely agreed upon by audiences and critics alike, the sequel two years later was a total misfire…a basic remake of the first that confused disgusting gags for humor and tried in vain to capitalize on what made the original such a success.  That same confusion exists within the third entry as well but there seems to be a little more effort put into the rounding off of these characters as they sail off into the sunset.

The film opens with one of the worst gags I’ve seen in film recently…if you’ve seen the trailer you know what’s coming for you and I watched these opening moments with a sinking sense of dread.  They wouldn’t actually do that, I asked myself…right before they did.  The follow-up scene is another laughless exercise and I had to turn to my friend and ask “This IS supposed to be a comedy, right?”  Sadly, the laughs were rare as the film unspooled and though it does move fast over the course of its 100 minute run time, you really do notice that there’s little to enjoy as The Wolfpack get embroiled in another scheme involving kidnapping and stolen gold.

Make no doubt about it… this is Galifianakis’s show all the way and Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook, Hit and Run, The Place Beyond the Pines) and Helms (The Lorax) are on hand to merely set-up his gags and not much else (poor Justin Bartha has even less to do as he’s once again sidelined early on).  What worked so well about the original film was the way these unlikely friends played off of each other and though all three have worked steadily in the four years since it’s obvious that director/writer Todd Phillips found Galifianakis (The Campaign) the easiest to write for.  That’s too bad because had Cooper and Helms been given more to do, they could have balanced a movie that’s weighed down by Galifianakis and his obtuse and only occasionally funny man-child antics.

The biggest mistake the film makes is moving peripheral character Mr. Chow front and center as part of the action which puts the biggest hole in this dingbat dinghy of a movie.  Played by the supernaturally annoying Ken Jeong, the character scored big in his small part of the original film and struck out astronomically in Part II.  Miraculously, in Part III he’s given even more to do which really ruins any chance the film had to succeed thanks to Jeong’s performance that seems to be culled from outtakes.

Though the film brings back some other characters from the previous installments and adds John Goodman (The Internship, Argo, Flight) to the mix, they are only there for show as Phillips fashions his film around gross-out humor and a disturbing amount of violence toward animals that’s meant to be humorous.  While I’ve always appreciated the film’s center core of friendship against all odds, the goodwill of franchise fans is put to the test here with a finished product that’s not very satisfying but thankfully signals the end of the road for these people.

The Silver Bullet ~ We’re the Millers

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Synopsis: A veteran pot dealer creates a fake family as part of his plan to move a huge shipment of weed into the U.S. from Mexico.

Release Date:  August 9, 2013

Thoughts: Attempting to shed her Friends image yet again, Jennifer Aniston (Wanderlust) dives headfirst into this black comedy as a stripper that gets involved with a pot dealer, agreeing to pose as his wife along with two other phoney balonies that are to be their children.  Director Rawson Marshall Thurber has a great name but a spotty track record when it comes to successful movies so this could go either way.  Bonus points go for a trailer that has some nice laughs and a cast that I’m interested to see go all the way with this type of material.

The Silver Bullet ~ The Hangover Part III

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Synopsis: This time, there’s no wedding. No bachelor party. What could go wrong, right? But when the Wolfpack hits the road, all bets are off.

Release Date:  May 24, 2013

Thoughts: When The Hangover was released a few summers back, it became a surprise hit for Warner Brothers with its old-school take on the buddy film, mixing in spot-on sight gags and revealing some hidden comedic talents from its game cast.  Its sheer popularity green lit a sequel that ended up being more repulsively vile than intelligently crude.  I’m hoping that Part III returns the series to its roots of being purposely funny…especially now that its stars are so well-known and, in Bradley Cooper’s case, Oscar nominated for Silver Linings Playbook.  I’m still mystified at the appeal of Ken Jeong, though.