ZOMBIELAND: DOUBLE TAP – GOOFY GORY FUN

SHORT TAKE:

Sequel to the over-the-top zombie movie spoof about four survivors of a zombie apocalypse.

WHO SHOULD GO:

ABSOLUTELY NO CHILDREN! And only for adults who have a taste for gory macabre humor that pushes the envelope – like Shaun of the Dead, Cabin in the Woods, and the Evil Dead franchise. No sexual content of note aside from seeing two unmarried people in bed talking, but there is a lot of profanity.

LONG TAKE:

Let me make this simple: if you liked Zombieland then you will like Zombieland: Double Tap. There is nothing deep or philosophical about either of these movies. They are just plain old gory fun.

The premise of Zombieland: Double Tap answers that most pressing of all questions: Where are our intrepid heroes from the original Zombieland 10 years later?

The original cast returns as four survivors of a zombie apocalypse who form an ersatz family, fighting the undead with as much joie de vivre as possible. Woody Harrelson (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri see review HERE, Now You See Me 1 and 2, 2012 AND lest anyone forgot, broke out as the sweet Woody Boyd assistant bartender in Cheers) is Tallahassee again, the leader of the group and the one who attacks zombies with the most creative and gleeful enthusiasm. Jesse Eisenberg (Social Network, Batman v Superman) reprises Columbus, Tallahassee’s sidekick. Columbus’ official romantic interest is Wichita, (Emma Stone – La La Land see review HERE), older sister of Little Rock (Abigail Breslin – Signs, Raising Helen).

To tell more than these bare bones would be to give away too much. Suffice it to say, ZDT is as clever and as campy as its predecessor, playfully turning the zombie genre on its head. Instead of characters cringing in fear and running in fright from the brain hungry mobs, this crew embraces the challenge of zombie killing the way others in a non-zombie world might embrace an extreme sport like skydiving into a shallow pool without a parachute or Safari hunting lions with a crossbow.

I must say zombie killing has been good to these guys. Zombieland was the first thing I ever really liked Woody Harrelson in, Jesse Eisenberg makes a far better Columbus than Lex Luthor, none of the actors, except Abigail Breslin appear to have aged a day and Little Rock couldn’t help it because she went from teen to young adult, and all of them seem to be having the best time of their lives.

Adding to the merry mayhem of people they meet along the way are: Zoey Deutch as Madison, Avan Jogia as Berkley,  Rosario Dawson as Nevada, Luke Wilson (brother of Owen and Andrew) as Alberquerque, and Thomas Middleditch (Godzilla see review HERE, Tag see review HERE) as Flag Staff.

The music is at turns perky folk Americana, upbeat, creepy, and sometimes all of the above at once, incorporating songs from Caddyshack‘s “I’m Alright” to Elvis Presley’s “Hound Dog”. (You’ll understand why each of them are included when you see the movie.)

The characters are self-aware, make fun of themselves, the genre, their characters and do not just break the fourth wall but don’t really seem to care if there is one or not.

Had the actors, writers (David Callaham, Rhett Reese, and Paul Wernick) or director (Ruben Fleischer) stepped back even an inch from the full steam ahead, break through the guard rails approach, Zombieland would not have worked.

As it is, this ultimate camp of the year zombie movie, for the demographic of those who prefer goofy in their gore, camp in their carnage, and do not mind more than a bit of grotesque with their humoresque, Zombieland: Double Tap is, in its own special and unique way, a delight. But please oh please, leave the kids at home unless you want to start the therapy fund early.

UNCLE DREW – SURPRISINGLY GOOD SPORTS FILM BASED ON A PEPSI COMMERCIAL

SHORT TAKE:

Charming and gentle, entertaining, though formulaic, sports comedy about the value of family and respect for an elderly generation with much to teach, set on the basketball court.

WHO SHOULD GO:

Young teens and up, or anyone with a lively enthusiasm for basketball, as long as parents go with them to caution against the good natured smack talk and the fact one of the protagonists begins the movie living with his very unpleasant girlfriend.

LONG TAKE:

My expectations were not high for Uncle Drew. After all, it was based upon a series of Pepsi advertisements masquerading as faux infomercials about an elderly retired basketball player who goes to different street courts to surprise the neighborhood kids with his skilled prowess and spread his sage advice on the game.

The fact that the elderly man is actually a young active professional ball player in prosthetic makeup makes the shorts seem more like Candid Camera stunts than any legitimate effort to convey life experience advice to a younger generation of basketball players.

However, in approaching the movie, Uncle Drew, I felt there was a glimmer of hope, as the entire Pirates of the Caribbean franchise was created with checkerboard success from the ephemeral beginnings of a singular feature in a Disney theme park ride. But, then again, I was also aware of the pathetic sequel failures Disney has milked out of that dying series.

So it was much to my surprise that I discovered Uncle Drew is a lovely, charming, entertaining, fairly family friendly movie for  teens and up, directed by Charles Stone, thoughtfully written, acted to the best of the performers' abilities, and espousing a number of admirable virtues. The Pepsi commercials were written by Kyrie Irving but the screenplay was written by Jay Longino who does an excellent job of creatng a smart and warm story.

The premise of Uncle Drew concerns Dax (Lil Rey Howery who steals the show in both Get Out and Tag), an enthusiastic, and overly optimistic, coach of a street basketball team, who spends his life savings outfitting and entering his team, Harlem's Money, into the Rucker Park Tournament, a tournament now known as the Entertainer's Basketball Classic. The prize money is $100,000 but Dax is more concerned about proving his worth in the game he loves but doesn't feel worthy to play. His long time rival, Mookie (Nick Kroll), steals both his team and his mercenary girlfriend out from under him.

Desperate, Dax discovers Uncle Drew, an elderly but skilled basketball player, on a court during a one-on-one challenge with a young player in an effort to teach this younger generation how basketball should be played. Dax prevails upon/begs Drew to play for him. Drew agrees on the condition that he can choose his own teammates. Dax and Drew proceed to travel around the country in his formerly hippie van picking up his old teammates. The first is Preacher (Chris Webber), aptly named and married to a woman, Betty Lou (Lisa Leslie), who does not wish him to return to the court. Without giving any spoilers here, the scene during the baptism is worth the price of admission alone. And, of course, Preacher, goes anyway. Lights (Reggie Miller) can't see and  Boots (Nate Robinson) is at first confined to a wheelchair. The last is Big Fella (the one the only Shaquille O'Neal) a karate teacher with a grudge against Uncle Drew which will serve as a plot point later in the movie.

Acting as counterpoint to his former girlfriend is Maya (Erica Ash), the granddaughter of Boots who tags along as a gentle and caring companion for her grandfather.

The rest of the movie is a pretty standard, formulaic sports movie of an underdog entering an important competition, confronting old rivals, resolving past conflicts, improving themselves, and becoming more than the sum of their parts or their surface appearance.

This does not take away from the fact that the movie is quite funny, and features opportunities to demonstrate forgiveness, repentance and taking responsibility for sins even when the offenses are decades-old, loyalty, altruism, respect  and appreciation not only for what the elderly can teach us, but for their past experiences and accomplishments, familial bonds, and kindness. There is even a very cute dance off – believably pulled off as older men by these young athletes.

I especially want to note the effort and lengths these young men go to, to portray older men. The acting, while not especially subtle, was obviously taken quite seriously by these basketball players. All took great pains with the makeup and to genuinely convey with dignity and understanding the challenges that elderly people often face physically and emotionally. For example, I read that Nate Robinson, who performed Boots, and who went throughout the first half of the movie as mute and almost immobile, is himself normally an extremely high energy and active person. He portrayed, quite effectively and convincingly, a man who had almost given up on life and himself, until he has the opportunity to work again with friends and do what he loves best.

I also admired the care and detail with which Mr. Irving portrayed his Uncle Drew. Irving, as Uncle Drew, moved convincingly, with the painful care, and conveyed the slow, cautious steps, affected gestures, and challenged movements of an elderly person. The warm ups on the court, as these older men become inspired once again to engage in the game they all love so much, and to watch them slowly blossom on the court, was both believable and inspiring.

Uncle Drew is a credit to its sports genre, and exemplifies the best of what that kind of movie can be and teach in a light-hearted, comedic but respectful way.

My cautions about a minimum age or parent-attended audience, comes primarily from the the fact that the main character lives with his girlfriend instead of being married, and the language, which is really just good-natured smack talk between elderly close friends and former teammates, who chide and tease each other about intimate behaviors.

As always, use parental discretion for younger teens, but if I had a child who was especially fond of basketball, I would accompany them with plans to admonish them about language use, and explain that living together without marriage is wrong and a sin. Otherwise, Uncle Drew is a delightful little film with a lot to commend it, and keeping the provisos in mind, I would definitely endorse it. Pepsi, you did good.

 

TAG – GOOFY MOVIE GIVES GOOD ADVICE

SHORT TAKE:

Based loosely on the real life camaraderie amongst 10 friends who have been playing the same game of Tag one month a year for 30 years, the movie Tag focuses on a representative five, plus one wife, a fiancee, and a reporter from the Wall Street Journal who breaks the story to the world.

WHO SHOULD GO:

Not for kids. Young adults and up only. The language and topics discussed are often raw and juvenilely crude and graphic. And the stunts these men are shown to pull are dangerous even under the supervision of stunt men, as Jeremy Renner found out. You would not want young impressionable kids trying to imitate them. UNLESS you want to show them clips and this photo to make the point – DON'T TRY THIS AT HOME!!!

LONG TAKE:

"You do not stop playing games because you grow old, you grow old because you stop playing games." This rather wise saying by George Bernard Shaw is the avowed, often repeated, theme of the movie Tag.

I have often advised my girls and teased my husband and sons that I do not believe men ever really get beyond the age of 13. Be they the Pope, your husband, your 80 year old grandfather, your investment broker, or your doctor, they hit puberty and that's — that. The only difference amongst them is their ability to hide it. It's one of the things that is most charming about them and used properly is a superpower.

And for anyone who does not believe me, you should see Tag, the movie, based on a real group of ten men, written up in a 2013 Wall Street Journal  article by Russell Adams.. Back row, from left to right: Mike Konesky, Bill Akers, Patrick Shultheis, Mark Mengert, Chris Ammann and Brian Dennehy. Front row, from left to right: Father Sean Raftis, Joey Tambari, Joe Caferro and Rick Bruya. (Courtesy of Father Sean Raftis ) These men, from all walks of life, one a priest, met at a Catholic school and  have been playing the same game of Tag, on and off, for THIRTY years. The Tag Brothers as they call themselves, particpate in this childlike joyous event for one month every year as a way to keep in touch —- literally — with each other. They have played despite and sometimes because of: births, deaths, weddings, illness and distances. They have tagged each other, in real life, by their own admission: in disguise, after flying hundreds of miles, appearing at family events, and even breaking into each others' HOMES! It's a wonder none of them have shot the other yet. One got tagged during his father's funeral – the taggee acknowledging it was a form of comfort and condolence and that his father, a big supporter of their game, would have thought funny. The group collected to support one of them when his wife was undergoing chemo and tagged him there. They have tagged each other when wives were in labor, and even when those children were being conceived!! (I do NOT even want to IMAGINE that one!) It is the way these men have chosen to stay friends.

As funny as this premise is you'd think it would be a one trick pony, perhaps documentary worthy but not enough to carry a movie. But you'd be wrong. The screenwriters, Rob McKittrich and Mark Steilen, have rather cleverly condensed the reality and formed it into an analogy for what keeps people together.

SPOILERS

Obviously an ensemble cast, to introduce them in rough order of appearance: Ed Helms as Hoagie, a successful veterinarian married to Isla Fisher’s extremely competitive Anna. Jon Hamm plays Bob, a wealthy CEO of a drug manufacturing company. Annabelle Willis is Rebecca, the reporter who embeds herself into the group. Jake Johnson is "Chili," the loser friend, stuck in his hippie, weed smoking, teenaged days.  Hannibal Buress is Sable, an air-heady sweet guy who sees life existentially. And then there is Jerry – Jeremy "Hawkeye" and "Bourne" Renner  – waxing and waning with the group as they pursue him during his wedding preparations. He is the main target this year because, in thirty years of playing tag with these same four friends, he has NEVER —- BEEN —– TAGGED, and rumor has it he will retire at the end of the month. And there is almost no lengths to which these men will go – physically, legally or in mental gamesmanship – in order to avoid being the last "it" – or to end the game without Jerry beng tagged at least once.

The personalities in the story are composites. There are no comparable individuals who are directly represented in the movie, but the premise and inspiration which ignited this crazy story did and does continue. The game, as it were, is STILL a foot!

WSJ also published the Tag Agreement drafted and signed as young adults by the Tag Brothers, based upon the rules they followed as children.

I normally consider profanity in movies largely a lack of creativity. But I have to admit on some level it is appropriate in Tag. Once the game is on, the men revert to the crude one-upsman language of adolescent teenagers – comparing and hitting genitalia, awkwardly throwing out "cuss" words, and using profanity as though they are trying to win a secondary competition for the most vulgarity. But this is what little boys do. They play rough and crash headlong in and through windows, businesses, private homes, yards and garbage cans during the chases. So energetic were the scenes as filmed that during one failed stunt involving a stack of chairs Jeremy Renner broke bones in both arms. The rest of the movie was filmed having to CGI around the "green screen" casts he had to wear.

But what was most charming about Tag was the moral to the story. Jerry, the all time champion who had never been tagged, knew everything about his friends. He knew how they thought, acted, what they did for a living, the strengthes and weaknesses of their personalities and could thereby anticipate any schemes to trap him. This, and his almost superhuman running speed, has kept him the reigning champion for 30 years. Ironically, but in hindsight predictably, his friends knew very little about him. They didn't know he was getting married or to whom. They didn't know he had a drinking problem or that he was in AA – until they bribe one of Jerry's own employees to rat out Jerry's location. Jerry may have been the Olympic Tag gold medalist but the cost was not spending any time with his friends during the one month the rest were together scheming to get him. Tag deals with the 30 years resolution to this conundrum.

It is the heart to this goofy movie which helps ratchet up Tag above its threadbare premise.

Another clever and memorable aspect to Tag are the homages to other movie genres. A number of schemes are attempted to tag Jerry. One plays out like a classic monster movie as the group moves through a foggy forest. Another scenario includes Jerry's internal POV as a voice over describing his analysis of their attacks and how he plans to countermand them – much like Downey, Jr.'s Sherlock Holmes. Other scenes give nods to Renner's stint as the Bourne Legacy character Aaron Cross as he uses everything from tablecloths to donuts and a walker to thwart his friends and leaps chairs, through windows and around staircases with an agility that his own Hawkeye would have admired.

As ridiculous as this movie is, I could not help but smile at the irresistable charm of grown men letting loose in a spirit of genuine fun with their friends. If the quote by Shaw is right, the Tag Brothers will remain eternally young as they keep their bonds of friendship alive. And that is a game worth playing.