“Crooked House” (2018)
Running Time: 95 minutes
Written by: Rob McKittrick & Mark Steilen
Directed by: Jeff Tomsic
Featuring: Ed Helms, Jake Johnson, Annabelle Wallis, Hannibal Buress, Isla Fisher, Rashida Jones, Jon Hamm, Leslie Bibb, Jeremy Renner
Sable: “What’s the difference between Episcopalian and Lutheran?”
Randy: “Episcopalians don’t eat fish.”
Sable: “That’s… pescatarian, that’s… not a religion.”
Randy: “They’re all fanatics, I don’t know.”
If one thing has been proven over the past few years it is that if you make a comedy then it had better have a strong original idea at its heart, an idea that permeates the narrative but also has something else as well, that is some kind of human drama or stakes to keep it honest. It has definitely been a very good year so far for comedies with “Blockers” (2018), “Book Club” (2018), “Game Night” (2018), “Life of the Party”(2018), along with many others, as well as the promise of more to come before the year is out. The question is: Where does “Tag” (2018) fall? Is it a great high concept comedy or does it stop at the idea and execute a nosedive into banality like so many comedies from the past few years? The answer is that it depends what you want from your comedies, a softer gentle story or something with a harder edge, like this R rated effort from what must be one of the better ensembles assembled, that all have multi genre experience. Now whilst “Tag” does have an action element to it this is definitely a physical comedy that does for the most part deliver on the promise seen in the trailers, which I have to say I thought sold the movie very well. However it does not shy away from trying to shock viewers and so it reminded me of “Bad Moms 2” (2017), which is not a great comparison as that movie had the some of the same kind of feeling that this one did – started with a good idea but then took a left turn with its R rating, relying on the adult content to see it through once the initial idea of the plot had worn of – which it does, early on.
The issue with “Tag”, one that haunts many movies that are based on newspaper or magazine articles is that they seem to be short changed in the plot department, as in an article, there is not much need to have either depth or secondary strands of plot. In a movie though these things are most important and can make or break a movie, in this case it is probably more on the break side, but it is definitely not a disaster, in fact it does have some memorable as well as some very funny sections. The issue is that it is difficult to not outright like this movie because of its winning cast, that for me has some of my favourite character actors, the issue is that the plot is pretty paper thin, it relies totally on the characterisations of players within the movie, which is almost always recipe for disaster. There are some adhoc B stories that start seemingly randomly, then just stop for no apparent reason.
For me the negative issues arise mainly because of the writers, Mark Steilen and Rob McKittrick, and the direcotr Jeff Tomsic are far too inexperianced in the making and moulding of a high concept movie like “Tag”. When taking a story like this there is a requirement for the writers then director to ensure that the narrative as well as the story is solid enough to ensure that the movie will be accepted as an entire piece and not just a good idea. This means that depth has to be given to the plot so as to broaden the appeal as well as make a story that is complex enough to keep the audience engaged. An excellent recent example is the comedy “Game Night” that took an idea, that of a group game night expanding the story into something that was not only hilarious but kept audiences engaged introducing charters as well as sub plots and more or less resolving them at the conclusion, something that could have been learned here.
“Tag” is based around a group of tight-knit friends–Hoagie, Jerry, Bob, Chili and Kevin–who at nine years old created a game of tag that they played through the month of May. After thirty years, it was the thing that brought them together, even when their lives took them in different directions. However, this might be the last, as it seems like Jerry–who’s never been tagged–might quit.
The real reason to go and see this movie is most definitely the cast, which is fantastic, while the movie is not led by Jeremy Renner he is the maguffin of sorts so holds a special place within the narrative, which I really enjoyed. Renner who is not only a gifted actor, having been nominated for two Oscars, but is also a very good physical actor with great comic timing and instincts proven time and again over the past three decades. Here he plays a person who has to outwit and outsmart a group of people, whom he plays magnificently, he knows exactly what to do and how to do it. The person who I loved seeing was Jake Johnson who was so underserved in last years “The Mummy” (2017), here delivers on a promise with some great lines and of course his timing is as good as his reputation would suggest. To be fair the rest of the cast has been chosen because they are all great comic character actors who have a depth of experience in just the roles they are playing which is both a positive as well as negative. When the rest of the cast is made up of Ed Helms, Hannibal Buress, Isla Fisher, Rashida Jonesand Jon Hamm it may have been much more original to have these talented comedians playing different types to what they have played in numerous other movies before, in a way it is a disservice to not only them but the audience – essentially there is little suspense in terms of motivations as we have kind of been there, done that. What may have assisted the movie in terms of characters may have been casting the actors to different roles or to even rewriting the charters to more original types so that there were surprises as the narrative unfolded, but unfortunately we are stuck with some fairly ordinary archetypes.
“Tag” is not far from being a good movie, but it does have some weaknesses which all seem to stem from its limited source material, I get it really I do, a group of friends have a game of tag that’s gone on for over thirty years, but that in and of itself. this is not enough of a story to have as the entire plot of the movie. Sure we see life events unfold within the game but they are not plot, just more narrative ideas to move the plot along of which there realy is none at all. The best solution to this problem is not to do a bait and switch which so many other movies do, that is make it an R-rated comedy and try and cover the plot with irreverence – this only works for so long as after a while the audience becomes immune to that. The only way to solve plot issues is to actually have a definite plot that starts in one place, ending in another with actions in between, but that plot has to mean something, here it means very little.
“Tag” is not a bad movie but it is fairly run of the mill, it lacks a strong plot or a narrative bite but it does have funny moments that include verbal and physical comedy, it also has a strong cast that are all talented so there are positive to it, just don’t expect to be amazed. There is no doubt that you will have a laugh but the movie will be forgotten once you leave the cinema, its not bad just average with an R-rating.
“Tag” is out now only in cinemas.