Tag (2018)

Released: June 15, 2018. Directed by: Jeff Tomsic. Starring: Ed Helms, Jeremy Renner, Jake Johnson. Runtime: 1h 40 min.

The concept of Tag could sound like the silliest thing ever. It’s literally grown men playing tag because they’ve been playing the game for 30 years and they get together every May to play. The concept only works because it’s true. The film’s based on a Wall Street Journal article called “It Takes Planning, Caution to Avoid Being It” by Russell Adams.

The article’s about a group of 10 friends who started playing the game in Spokane, Washington, in high school, but resumed the game again in 1990 at their high school reunion. A main difference of the stars of the article are their ages – average Joe’s in their late 40s – and these characters are thirty-somethings who started the game on the playground.

It seems that the film has only taken the concept of the game as our main characters are a core group of five instead of the real-life 10, but this is effective for purposes of simplicity. We first meet Hogan ‘Hoagie’ Malloy (Ed Helms) dressing as a janitor in an attempt to tag his friend Bob Callahan (Jon Hamm).

He wants to round up the gang, which also includes Randy ‘Chilli’ Cilliano (Jake Johnson) and Sable (Hannibal Burress), to go to the wedding of their best friend Jerry (Jeremy Renner) to tag the untagged before he retires from the game.

We get the exposition that they have been playing the game for 30 years when Wall Street Journal journalist Rebecca Crosby (Annabelle Wallis), the gender-swapped stand-in for the actual article’s author Russell Adams, interviews Bob for an article but follows this story instead.

The characters have a nice bond because the game was conceived as a way for them to stay in touch and build their friendships around, and the film surprisingly has a ton of heart. It also shows good examples of fun competition and unhealthy competition, like Hoagie’s wife Anna (Isla Fisher) who is willing to do a lot to find out where Jerry is in town. She’s not actually able to play, but she has a lot of funny, overtly aggressive lines.

Tag featured

Jeremy Renner and Jon Hamm in Tag. (IMDb)

For me it’s more than grown men just playing a game of tag because it’s about embracing your inner child and not forgetting to have fun. This film’s fun, and the comedy is outrageous for a reason. Characters dress up as old ladies in efforts to tag others, and it’s that much funnier because it happened in real life.

The elaborate scenes of characters trying to tag each other are just generally hilarious and it must have been a lot of fun for writers Rob McKittrick and Mark Steilen to figure out these set pieces of them trying to tag each other. They’re super creative.

In one scene we get inner monologues of what the characters are thinking as they’re trying to tag Jerry – and Jerry’s monologue is mostly assessing the situation like a military operative. My favourite line of inner dialogue in this scene is from the journalist as she sees a doughnut flying in slow motion: “This is why print journalism is dying.” I was probably the only one who really laughed at this at the theatre, but I thought it was a funny comment on the type of story she’s covering.

She does have a point – but it’s articles like the one Russell Adams wrote that make amusing films like this happen. At Tag’s core, it’s a story about human connection and staying in touch. It even got me a little emotional near the end. As for the comedy, the outrageousness of the characters trying to avoid being tagged is what makes this so much fun, and its over-the-top comedy really worked for me.

Score: 75/100

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We’re the Millers (2013)

We're the MillersReleased: August 7, 2013. Director: Rawson Marshall Thurber. Stars: Jason Sudeikis, Jennifer Aniston, Will Poulter. Runtime: 110 min.

The opening scene of “We’re the Millers” made me anxious for the movie I was about to see. It opens with some of the most popular YouTube videos of the last few years. It’s somewhat lazy and quite random, so I wasn’t sure if I was about to see a haphazardly-edited, lazy movie. The idea of showing some of the funniest/most popular YouTube videos (“Double Rainbow,” “Surprised Kitty”) is clever, and a great way to get the audience laughing early. It’s clever since it’s not done a lot, and one would think an idea so simple would show up more. The movie is more clever than lazy.

The story follows a small-time veteran drug dealer David Clark (Jason Sudeikis) who finds himself in a tough spot. He gets mugged by three punks who steal his stash (worth $43,000). It’s almost a fool-proof crime. One can’t go to a police officer with a thing like “Some guys stole my weed that’s enough to put me in jail for a long time.” His supplier, Brad Gurdlinger (Ed Helms), tells him to go to Mexico to get a smidgeon and a half of weed and smuggle it back across the U.S. border. If he does so, he’ll get some money and they’d be even. This job is out of David’s league, and he can’t do it easily because he looks like a drug dealer.

He hires a stripper (Rose, played by Jennifer Aniston), a virgin (Kenny, played by Will Poulter), and a runaway (Casey, played by Emma Roberts) to be his fake family, because no one expects any funny business from families. Sounds easy, right? They’ll have to deal with a few antagonists along the way, because otherwise, the funny ride would be too short.

All of the members of the Miller “family” get their chance to shine, with Sudeikis being the funniest; Aniston being the sexiest. I’m liking Sudeikis more and more in bigger roles. Aniston’s roles have been getting edgy and vulgar, so I can’t wait to see what she does next, even if she isn’t as funny as she is in “Horrible Bosses.” Sexier, yes, but not as awesome. I’d like to see more of Will Poulter. He steals more than a few scenes – as he’s the one needing a family foundation the most. I love how Emma Roberts seems to be trying to shed her goody-two-shoes reputation, and she has successfully done so with her vulgarity – but it’s mostly thanks to a different, crazy role prior to this film. You’ll know it when you see it. All I know, she’s a great young actress.

There’s a host of funny characters throughout. Ed Helms’ Brad Gurdlinger is that one psychopath is an office building who could snap at any moment. (With a white ass name like Brad Gurlinger, I’d probably snap, too.) But he’s the big-time supplier who runs his business out of a big building that could be a more orthodox corporate business. And oh, he’s a big ole nerdy schmuck who has, indeed, killed people.

We're the Millers1The Millers also meet the Fitzgerald family, who’s actually a legitimate vacationing family, led by the always chuckle-worthy Nick Offerman (TV’s “Parks and Recreation,”) and Kathryn Hahn (“Step Brothers”). They come in for some of the funniest scenes, where director Rawson Marshall Thurber (“Dodgeball”) gets to show some of his great skills and ability to get big laughs out of the audience. The actors also help out a lot by having the great timing that they do. And he directs a glorious stripping scene for Aniston, and what a scene it is. (For a movie that has many scenes set in a strip club, there’s a surprisingly low amount of nudity. Though, not many of us are expecting Aniston to get fully nude.)

With comedies, one must ask, “Is it funny?” Hell yeah, “We’re the Millers” is hilarious, with its amusing references and great homages. (The TLC homage to “Waterfalls” gets big laughs.) Another question that will probably weigh on peoples’ minds is, “How original is it?” This movie doesn’t strive on originality. It’s familiar and a lot like every other road trip movie. It’s also the most predictable movie of the summer, outside of “The Heat.” But that doesn’t mean this isn’t a good time. The comedy has a fine comedic momentum. There’s one part in the third act where there wasn’t a big laugh for ten minutes (which comes around the 90-minute mark), but it finds its funny way about it again sooner than later. And the fact that it does have consistent laughs for the first 90 minutes is pretty damn good.

There’s a scene at the beginning where one of David’s old college buddies shows up (Thomas Lennon, who seems to be everywhere), and admits his envy for David’s bachelor, drug dealing life, since he has a wife and kids. In a predictable movie like this, I don’t think I have to tell you the purpose of this nice scene.

There are sentimental and nice scenes (sort-of like that) throughout the movie, between lots of dick jokes, but unlike “Identity Thief,” most ring true. And also unlike “Identity Thief,” you care about these characters. (This almost makes me sad that I gave “Identity Thief” such a high score – 72, to be exact; I watched it once more and it felt more like a 63.) “We’re the Millers” utilizes its simple road trip premise much better than most would think, and produces a hilarious ride.

Score75/100

The Hangover Part III (2013)

The Hangover 3

Release Date: May 23, 2013

Director: Todd Phillips

Stars: Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis

Runtime: 100 min

Zach Galifianakis, Bradley Cooper and Ed Helms star in an original tale of bad decisions and mayhem. The movie I’m talking about is 2009’s The Hangover. The first sequel has a severe case of sequelitis (exact same thing as the first). We now arrive at The Hangover Part III, a movie that suffers from a far more common and simple occurrence: bad movie syndrome.

The movie opens at the prison where Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong) is now escaping, under the cover of a prison riot. He crawls in the sewer, but comes out clean on the other side. It then changes tone to follow the wolfpack. After the death of Alan’s father, the wolfpack take Alan (Zach Galifianakis) to a mental hospital to get his problems sorted out. On the way there, they are assaulted and Doug is kidnapped (again). They must find Leslie Chow and bring him to Marshall, Doug’s kidnapper, in order to save Doug.

This isn’t able to cut ties to the original or the first sequel. The plot afoot, where Marshall (John Goodman) kidnaps Doug (Justin Bartha), in consequence to what Chow did in the first. They go to Las Vegas, again. There’s a trade-off in the desert, again. The filmmakers don’t keep some of the best components: Stu singing a song, Mike Tyson, good comedy, and worst of all, a hangover. These guys are never drunk during the movie! Frankly, these sober guys aren’t so fun to watch. Todd Phillips is so terrified of making the same movie three times; he changes the overall tone. Viewers who are expecting to cry from laughter will be sorely disappointed. It has some funny scenes, because you might laugh at Alan being his idiotic self; but most of the content is so dark, it can’t be considered funny.

Doug (Justin Bartha) has always been a secondary presence, since this Princess Peach-esque character is kidnapped so much. Black Doug (Mike Epps), honorary wolfpack member, has always been the better Doug. He is a star of one of the only hilarious scenes in the entire movie. The other humour suddenly becomes tired because we’ve seen it in the trailers already. One joke that becomes exhausting is when Alan pretends to give someone a high five, but it’s a sike-out and he grooms his hair instead. It’s a little funny the first time; and since it’s not so funny the second time, it sure as hell won’t be funny the third freaking time. Stu (Ed Helms) is relied on to make gagging noises at disgusting parts. The only characters that have should-be funny dialogue are Alan (of course), Chow and Black Doug.

The problem is, both Alan and Chow become more and more irritating as the movie progresses. Alan is more moronic than ever, and Chow is more sociopathic than ever. The hilarious content is limited. The fact that thinking of a truly funny scene in a comedy movie, especially one of The Hangover franchise, is a huge issue. This one is memorable for all the wrong reasons. The first produces a laugh-a-minute, almost, but here you’ll be lucky to laugh every ten. This is truly the most bizarre out of the three; and the plotting is ludicrous, even if if there is an evident plot.

The humour is mean-spirited and, often enough, downright despicable. These sociopathic and passive-aggressive characters only seem to care about retrieving Doug. Alan, an overweight toddler with an awesome beard, has a bit of a heart because he begins to realize his actions have a very negative outcome, and he tries to fix it. Phil is still the calm and collected one, but he’s generally unfunny, here. This will be remembered as that one movie that broke Bradley Cooper’s hot streak.

Do you want to know some really despicable and enfuriating humour at play here? (I’ll tell you anyway.) In the trailer, Alan’s car goes under a low bridge, but the giraffe doesn’t. Todd Phillips shows the giraffe’s severed head crashing into a windshield. At a later moment, Phil says, “I think it’s kinda funny. It’s a giraffe, who the f*ck cares?” Of course this is all for shock, but Phillips is definitely receiving angry calls from PETA this weekend.

This has a few forgettable laughs, but its dark tone makes this memorable for the wrong reason. This really should be excellent, because the trailers make this look promising. Optimistic fans of the franchise will not find a bigger disappointment this summer season. If you are disappointed, don’t make the same mistake I did by walking out of the theatre right when the end credits start to roll. Apparently, there’s a hilarious scene part-way through the credits. This movie is like a cruel, sad little man with a cold, sociopathic heart. The filmmakers give making a good movie the old college try; but giving something ‘the old college try’ shouldn’t mean it will feel like it’s written by mentally disturbed college students.

25/100