(On Cable TV, January 2019) As far as contemporary comedies go, Tag holds its own as an enjoyable entry in the genre. Starting with an off-beat premise inspired by real events (a group of guys playing a lifelong game of tag), it stocks its ensemble cast with known comic personas, features a script that exploits the nooks and crannies of the premise and wraps it all up in sequences that have more cinematic depth than most other comedies. As a comedy/action hybrid (naturally, with the “tag” hook), it features enough CGI and gags stolen from other action movies (including the Sherlockian slow-motion voice-over options analysis) to act as a semi-satire. The film does a credible job at rationalizing its unlikely premise, from how the game was created to the various rules that make it a bit more complex. To support that intent, it also features a coterie of observers (including a journalist played by Annabelle Wallis in a thankless role that is reduced to being the audience’s surrogate) to highlight how crazy the main characters can become in playing the game. The cast was clearly chosen for their established personas, whether we’re talking about Jon Hamm’s propensity for comedy, Isla Fisher’s energetic enthusiasm, Ed Helms as the goofy straight man, and Jeremy Renner to make use of his action-movie credentials in a more serious character than the other. The result is funny enough, although the third-act turn into drama is suspect in the way movies written according to screenwriting rules feel obliged to hit specific emotional turns. Tag is an enjoyable comedy, with set-pieces more ambitious than is the norm for many flatter comedies. The dialogue shows signs of having been written rather than improvised, which usually improves the results.
(On Cable TV, February 2018) There’s something … off about this newest edition of The Mummy that exemplifies the worst in modern blockbuster movies. It’s not even worth comparing to the already classic 1999 film that perfectly blended comedy with adventure and introduced us to Rachel Weisz. It’s clunky enough on its own terms. Part of the problem is pitching the film as the first in the “Dark Universe” (nice logo!), an acknowledged copycatting of the MCU that is up to its third attempt to launch a shared universe of movies: We get glimpses of intriguing things, but the film keeps its best shots in reserve in anticipation of something else. Part of the problem is Tom Cruise, increasingly too old and too proud to play the same roles in the same way. Part of the problem is a script that doesn’t quite know what to do with itself, and suffers from a dull premise that can’t manage to tie everything together. It’s shorter to list the things that aren’t a problem: Sofia Boutella is (as usual) fantastic and alluring in her role as the villain mummy Ahmanet—sufficiently so, in fact, that she practically becomes the sympathetic protagonist to cheer for. Russell Crowe is enjoyable as Dr. Jekyll—the film can’t figure out what to do with the character, but Crowe’s hulking bulk is used to good effect. The plane crash sequence (as a few other scenes here and there) is well executed. Bits and pieces of the shared universe are admittedly cool—having classic Universal monsters interact and a secret organization to keep track of them isn’t a bad idea, even though The Mummy isn’t the best showcase for such a crossover event. Alas, there is so much boring stuff in the film that it struggles to keep our interest whenever Ahmanet isn’t on-screen—Annabelle Wallis is dull as the nominal heroine, and the various shenanigans regarding Cruise’s character and his relationship to death are really far less interesting than they should have been. And then there’s the ugly side of the script (a plane crash next to THE church required for the next plot point! Sandstorm in London?) and a hero we don’t really care for. Still, this is a big-budget action fantasy film, and there’s enough stuff in here to be worth a forgiving watch. I wouldn’t necessarily mind another Dark Universe film—The Mummy, after all, is better than Dracula Untold and I, Frankenstein. But after three false starts, wouldn’t it be time to put the idea to rest?