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 ~ Keeping Up with the Joneses

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The Facts
:

Synopsis: A suburban couple becomes embroiled in an international espionage plot when they discover that their seemingly perfect new neighbors are government spies.

Stars: Zach Galifianakis, Jon Hamm, Isla Fisher, Gal Gadot, Patton Oswalt

Director: Greg Mottola

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 105 minutes

TMMM Score: (4/10)

Review: When asked by a friend about my thoughts after screening Keeping Up with the Joneses, all I could offer up was, “It’s stupid.  Not bad, not unwatchable…just stupid.” If you’re ok with ‘stupid’ then by all means get thee to your local theater and plunk down those bucks to see a movie that gets it wrong from the get-go.

The problem is, I feel, with the cast.  Not that Zach Galifianakis (Muppets Most Wanted), Jon Hamm (Million Dollar Arm), Isla Fisher (Now You See Me), & Gal Gadot (Triple 9) are wrong for the movie…they’re just in the wrong roles.  Stick with me here, ok?  How many times have we seen movies where statuesque women and movie-star handsome men play secret agents in disguise? And in how many features do they have sidekicks that aren’t quite runway ready but are more than capable of carrying lighter material?  That’s the problem…all four actors above the title in Keeping Up with the Joneses are simply playing into expectations dictated by their Q-scores.

I think I would have enjoyed the movie more had Galifianakis and Fisher swapped roles with Hamm and Gadot because it would have afforded them (and audiences) a chance for something different.  Hamm could certainly have handled the comic bits and I think Galifianakis would have been able to smooth out some of the roughly scripted staid edges screenwriter Michael LeSieur couldn’t do himself.  And why couldn’t Fisher have been the confident super-spy that shows repressed suburban mom Gadot how to wear French cut lingerie and trade bullets with bad guys?

Sadly, no one asked my opinion so Keeping Up with the Joneses is just your standard spy comedy where everyone is simply coasting along to pick up their paycheck at the end of the week.  There’s little joy in the telling of the tale where government operatives Gadot and Hamm pose as new neighbors in a cul-de-sac populated by the employees of a local software business.  Galifianakis is the HR rep for the company and Fisher is his homemaker wife that’s the first to notice the new couple on the block is too good to be true.  When a mole offers to sell a valuable computer chip to the top bidder, the two couples become involved with a little espionage and a lot of poorly constructed action sequences.

If there is a VIP of the movie, Fisher is certainly it.  Possessing good comic instincts and a true talent for physical comedy, Fisher easily outperforms Hamm and Galifianakis, both of whom barely lift a finger to bring anything new to the party.  I wish Gadot’s role wasn’t quite so one-dimensional, though her role-reversal of power with her seemingly more macho counterpart is a nice wrinkle.  The supporting players are a collection of desperate scene stealers clearly compensated with free meals from their scenery chewing.

For all its brightly lit suburban bliss and basic cable action scenes, director Greg Mottola’s (Superbad) film looks pretty cheap.  I expected some of the sets to tip over if people leaned against them and the few special effects would have been impressive had this come out the summer after Tron did.  Keep your eyes open for a scene between Galifianakis and Hamm that was clearly a reshoot – both men are wearing wigs so fake looking you’d swear they raided the discount Halloween bin at CVS.

Possibly enjoyed as a rental down the line, Keeping Up with the Joneses isn’t worth much of an effort this fall.

Movie Review ~ Minions

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Minions Stuart, Kevin and Bob are recruited by Scarlet Overkill, a super-villain who, alongside her inventor husband Herb, hatches a plot to take over the world.

Stars: Michael Keaton, Steve Coogan, Allison Janney, Sandra Bullock, Jon Hamm, Jennifer Saunders, Pierre Coffin, Steve Carell

Director: Kyle Balda, Pierre Coffin

Rated: PG

Running Length: 91 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (4/10)

Review:  In my review of 2013’s Despicable Me 2, I mentioned that the filmmakers succeeded in making an enjoyable sequel because of their understanding of exactly what the audience wanted…more Minions.  After Despicable Me 2 broke big at the box office, a third film was set for release in 2017 but in the interim a spin-off animated adventure has been created that focuses solely on how the Minions came to serve their not-quite-so evil master Gru.  You’d think that the most enjoyable elements from the first two films would be a slam-dunk when given their own film…but it turns out that sometimes it’s best to leave well enough alone.

Look, I loved the Minions in the first two films and laughed at their gibberish language and love of bananas as much as the next easily pleased adult in the audience.  Heck, I even waited in line for a considerable time in a light drizzle for a spot on the Minion Mayhem ride at Universal Studios in Florida.  It’s clear, though, that these were characters that worked better in their featured supporting roles and aren’t quite ready for headlining their own film.

The opening credits show the genesis of the Minions as they emerge from a prehistoric ocean and start their quest to serve the baddest of bad guys throughout time.  Their bumbling winds up offing their masters throughout history, though, from a T-Rex to Dracula to Napoleon and eventually they find themselves exiled into a cave frozen over with ice where they languish without a villainous boss to serve.  Not content with just lying around any longer, during the ‘60s the resourceful Kevin recruits two of his compatriots (Stuart and Bob) to venture out in search of an evil genius they can attend to.

Starting out in New York before heading to Florida and then England, the film follows the three pals as they become involved with the first female supervillain, Scarlet Overkill (Sandra Bullock, Gravity) as she plots to overthrow the British monarchy.  Owing a little bit of its plot to King Ralph, the final half of film has the Minions first trying to help Overkill steal The Crown Jewels and then staving her off as she goes mad with newfound power.

Like the previous two entries in the Despicable Me universe, Minions feels too long even at the relatively short 91 minutes.  I was checking my watch before it was half over, a bad omen for a film not lacking in color or 3D distraction. (Like its predecessors, this one is worth the 3D upcharge…but make sure to stay until the final credits have passed for some impressive 3D effects.)  Directors Kyle Balda and Pierre Coffin (who also voices every last Minion…totaling almost 1,000!) seem to know they don’t have enough material for a full-length feature so there are more than a few pit stops along the way, such as Stuart leading some Royal Guards in a sing-a-long to, randomly, a selection from the musical Hair.

The voice talent also is disappointingly underwhelming.  I was looking forward to Bullock’s performance but didn’t get much from her.  Like Frozen, the voices never seemed to really match their animated counterparts so you have the voices of talented actors like Bullock, Michael Keaton (RoboCop), Allison Janney (The Way Way Back), Jon Hamm (Million Dollar Arm), and Steve Coogan (Philomena) coming awkwardly out of designs that don’t sound totally correct.

It’s in the final five minutes where the movie shows some signs of life, not surprisingly it’s the part that acts as a bridge between Minions and Despicable Me, by that time I was just ready to get up and go so it’s a credit to the film that it finished up strong.  Still, in a summer that’s shown that there’s a case to be made for successful sequels, Minions is an example of how a spin-off (even one with good intentions) isn’t always the wisest route to take.  I’m sure the film will rake in a buttload of cash, though, so I hope that Despicable Me 3 puts the Minions back to work at what they do best…support the action rather than lead it.

Movie Review ~ Million Dollar Arm

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A sports agent stages an unconventional recruitment strategy to get talented Indian cricket players to play Major League Baseball.

Stars: Jon Hamm, Bill Paxton, Lake Bell, Suraj Sharma, Aasif Mandvi, Madhur Mittal, Pitobash, Alan Arkin

Director: Craig Gillespie

Rated: PG

Running Length: 124 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (4/10)

Review: Much to my number-minded mom’s chagrin, I was never the math whiz she wanted me to be. With a flick as by the numbers as Million Dollar Arm is I can, however, spot a movie formula without the use of a graphing calculator. It’s a simple equation, really, made simpler by a hokey screenplay courtesy of Tom McCarthy and pedestrian direction from Craig Gillespie. You ready?

True story multiplied by 2 Indian youths divided by 1 Jon Hamm-y performance plus 1 extraneous subplot = Million Dollar Arm

Here’s the thing: I actually think there’s a respectable movie to be made out of the story of an arrogant sports agent (Hamm, ) scraping the bottom of the financial barrel who strikes a deal with the baseball league to sponsor a contest to find the first Indian baseball player.  The problem is that Walt Disney Studios, McCarthy, and Gillespie all made the movie from the wrong perspective. If you see the movie (as a rental, por favor) you’ll understand that it’s the two young men and their baseball loving translator that are the heart of the picture and anything/everything related to Hamm’s agent character drags the film to TV movie of the week levels.

Though he’s popped up in ok supporting roles over the past few years, Hamm sadly doesn’t have the chops that make the type of leading man this type of film needed. Better suited for a Dennis Quaid, Ben Affleck, or shoot, even Casey Affleck, Hamm struggles with Don Draper-izing his small screen handsome features and wardrobe. Taking a page from Jerry Maguire, he can’t even do what Tom Cruise accomplished in that film and make his character likable…even when he’s speaking lines that should do the trick.

It’s puzzling that the film so desperately tries to avoid telling the story at the center of it all with way too much of the way too long 124 minute running length devoted to Hamm’s gradual realization that the woman renting his guest house (Lake Bell, who knows she and Hamm are mismatched) is girlfriend material. Bell, Bill Paxton (Indian Summer), and Alan Arkin (The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, who literally sleeps his way the film) do their best to counterbalance the enormous anchor Hamm ties to the film but can’t keep it afloat.

As the fish out of water baseball hopefuls, Suraj Sharma (Life of Pi) and Madhur Mittal (Slumdog Millionaire) are winning presences and do much of their own impressive pitching. However, the one person that manages a home run if not an outright grand slam is Bollywood star Pitobash making his Hollywood debut. At first I wrote the tiny bundle of energy off as simply comic relief but as the film went on I wanted to see more of him. To say that he makes a great save in the final inning is to put it mildly as in one short speech he nearly makes up for all the hooey that came before. It’s in this moment that you might, like me, realize how much better a movie was waiting to be made had Disney recognized where the true focus should have been.

Reminding me a lot of Disney’s 90s offering Cool Runnings, Million Dollar Arm can’t complete in the big leagues of other sports related family entertainment (rated PG, parents should know this really skates the edge of PG-13 material) due to Hamm’s not ready for primetime performance and a lack of faith in the material. Instead, take a peek at The Rookie, Disney’s 2002 baseball-makes-grown-men-cry offering.

The Silver Bullet ~ Million Dollar Arm

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Synopsis: A sports agent stages an unconventional recruitment strategy to get talented Asian cricket players to play Major League Baseball.

Release Date:  May 16, 2014

Thoughts: Let me start out by saying that I’m going to see Million Dollar Arm when it’s released in 2014 because I like this particular type of film.  No one makes an underdog story with the right amount of schmaltz quite like Disney and it’s hard to find good PG material that doesn’t pander to tots and doesn’t induce eyerolls in adults.

I will say, however, that this film looks an awful lot like Cool Runnings, Disney’s 1993 film of another American Jo(h)n (Candy) that finds star athletes (a bobsled team) in a most unlikely location (Jamaica).  Jon Hamm (Friends with Kids) seems like the right gent for the job but he’s yet to truly prove he can carry a theatrical film all on his own.  There’s charisma to spare here but it’s not yet made the leap from TV to film…perhaps this sure-to-be feel good-er will seal the deal.