Tag, a knockabout goof-fest starring Jeremy Renner, heads this week’s Sun DVD reviews, while there are more laughs in basketball comedy Uncle Drew. Shailene Woodley gives an emotional performance in shipwreck epic Adrift, there’s fun for kids in The Littlest Reindeer, and there’s also Bruce Willis in The Bombing, a new Robin Hood, Aussie horror in Long Weekend, anime adventure with In Another World With My Smartphone, and action in Operation: Red Sea. Read on…
(15) Out Nov 5
A bunch of middle-aged men who’ve been playing tag for one month a year since childhood reunite for the wedding of one of the gang.
But groom Jerry (Jeremy Renner) is the master of the game, and has never been tagged. Are his friends willing to sabotage his wedding just to win the game?
Duh… of course they are.
This very silly comedy is based on a real-life bunch of pals who actually do still pull off increasingly elaborate tag pranks on each other.
And it’s pretty funny in spells, as you might expect from a cast with such comic chops as Ed Helms (The Hangover), Isla Fisher (Wedding Crashers), and Jon Hamm (Mad Men).
But it makes some strange tonal lurches, and misjudgments in its comic targets: for example, we’re supposed to find it hilarious that the gang all bully the barman in the local bar for no real reason.
The biggest issue, though, is that the more extreme lengths the group go to in their desperation to tag each other, even putting their lives in jeopardy, the less believable and funny it becomes, and the more it strays away from its origin: a bunch of pals being affectionately competitive.
Renner somehow emerges well from the script’s OTT daftness but Helms, whose character is the most obsessed with winning, suffers the most.
And a word of warning on the black humour: if miscarriage is a sensitive subject for you or anyone you plan to watch this film with, you’re strongly urged to give it a miss.
This much criticism for a film that is broadly funny, with quite a few belly laughs, may seem unfair but it stems from disappointment.
Tag could easily have been brilliant if it stuck closer to its core concept, and yet it’s merely good.
(12) Out Nov 5
When backpacker Tami wakes up bloody and dazed in the flooded cabin of her yacht in the middle of the ocean, her priorities are to stop the vessel sinking and to find her missing boyfriend.
What follows is a battle for survival against the elements and the odds that’s all the more incredible for being a true story.
Shailene Woodley (Divergent, The Fault In Our Stars) plays a blinder as Tami: one part endearing goofiness to two parts steely pragmatism.
But Sam Claflin fares less well as Tami’s English boyfriend Richard, in a bland performance.
Interspersed with the perilous and harrowing boat scenes are flashbacks that show us how Tami and Richard ended up so far from safety.
It’s a device that hinders as much as it helps: while the backstory adds layers and makes us care about the couple, it robs the narrative of the urgency it does so well to create at the start.
It’s partly to blame for a definite lull about two thirds of the way through.
But the opening and closing thirds – and the emotional gutpunch along the way – are good enough by themselves to make this worth a watch.
If nothing else, you’ll be full of admiration for the guts, intelligence and determination shown by the real-life Tami.
(12) Out Nov 5
OAP NBA all-stars are virtually wheeled out of the old folks’ home for a sports tournament and given one last shot at glory in this comedic basketball romp.
Dodgy make-up and heavy product placement threaten to spoil the flow at times, and you will probably have encyclopaedic knowledge of Nike’s entire collection by the end of the movie.
But as a classic underdog tale it just about manages to hold its own in a saturated spoof market.
Shaquille O’Neal, Reggie Miller, Lisa Leslie and Chris Webber all work well enough together, and there are enough varied gags to keep the show chugging along at a decent pace.
The Littlest Reindeer
(PG) Out now
Elliot the miniature pony wins the hearts of the entire family on his festive quest to break his way into Santa’s reindeer team.
His opportunity comes when Blitzen announces an early retirement, the latest in a long line of reindeer failures, meaning Christmas could be cancelled.
The tiny hero, voiced by Josh Hutcherson (Peeta from The Hunger Games), is helped along the way by his best-friend-turned-coach Hazel the goat.
While festive films usually focus on the greatness of the reindeer pulling the sleigh, this is the ultimate underdog story.
Also featuring the voice talents of Martin Short and John Cleese, it’s a feelgood, cosy family Christmas film with something to please everyone.
(15) Out now
This Bruce Willis-led blockbuster about the 1939 Japanese air attack on Chongqing, China, had promise, but viewers hoping to see a groundbreaking East-West collaboration will be sorely disappointed.
The two central storylines – a soldier must transport a decoder from the coast to army headquarters, while on the home front his brother tries to stage a Mah Jong competition despite being under siege by Japanese bombers – are mildly engaging but everything else is baffling.
Adrien Brody and Bruce’s daughter Rumer Willis both have fleeting incomprehensible roles which play no part in the plot and seem to exist solely to get their names in the credits. Ironically some of the best acting comes from a toddler who cries on cue and manages to work with two piglets.
Some of the script is laughable. “Sir, please allow us to go kick some ass,” would have been a bit much even from Captain America, but from a Chinese airforce officer addressing Willis’s US military adviser, it comes across as parody.
One thing to commend the writing team led by Chen Ping is that they have taken what could be described as a “Band Of Brothers” approach to the fate of characters: people you think will be heroes, or at least make it more than halfway through the film, unceremoniously die without a moment’s notice. It’s the only realistic thing about war they’ve managed to capture.
Robin Hood: The Rebellion
(15) Out Nov 5
It’s a case of Emmerdale to Alan-a-Dale, as former Woolpack regular Ben Freeman takes on the mantle of Robin Hood.
This version of the outlaw’s tale is not to be confused with the upcoming Taron Egerton film: it’s far less flashy, which is no bad thing in itself, and is much lower budget.
It gets some things right: the costumes look good, as do the locations. It does its best to take a different tack on the legend, with a grittier, more focused narrative. There’s not much merriment among Robin’s merry men as he battles a thuggish Sheriff of Nottingham, and he barely uses his bow. It at least tries to offer something different.
But as much as it robs from a rich folklore, it gives a poor account of itself to viewers in other ways.
A rather good performance from Freeman and his ballsy Maid Marian (Marie Everett) aside, a lot of the cosplay-standard acting should have been outlawed, while some of the lumpen fight scenes are of the standard you would once have seen on daily display at Camelot theme park.
There’s a cameo from nice guy Kristian Nairn (Hodor from Game Of Thrones showing why it was perhaps for the best he only ever had one word of dialogue in that show) and the force of nature that is Brian Blessed.
Blessed – who played Robin Hood’s dad in the 1991 Kevin Costner version – is here upgraded to Friar Tuck, raising hopes that he might be working up to playing Robin himself in another few years.
But while you might easily imagine him as a jolly, bombastic Tuck, he’s here oddly given a restrained role as a quiet, quasi-mystical figure.
Meanwhile the plot is so narrowly focused that it ends up feeling more like an episode of a TV series rather than a fully fledged medieval epic.
But while Robin Hood: The Rebellion is unlikely to set you aquiver, its ambition is to be applauded. It’s no less enjoyable than the leaden-footed Russell Crowe version from a few years back, and at a fraction of the budget.
Operation Red Sea
(18) Out now
Subtlety is the first casualty of war and this all-action Chinese-language thriller is anything but understated.
Drawing more than a little influence from Black Hawk Down (2001) the film is mostly set in the fictionalised African country of Yewaire, where the Jiaolong (Sea Dragon) Chinese navy special forces team needs to rescue hostages from terrorists, evacuate civilians from spiralling violence and foil a plot to make dirty bombs from nuclear waste.
The battle scenes are confidently structured throughout with sophisticated visual tricks – notably in the opening scene where snipers rescue a container ship from Somali pirates – but amid the non-stop action there is very little room for plot.
With a substantial budget plus vast support from China’s People’s Liberation Army – reportedly in the form of loaned ships, helicopters and high-tech weaponry – Operation Red Sea has already been a box office hit domestically.
And having toned down the jingoistic tone of previous Chinese military films in favour of a more honest look at the savagery of war, filmmaker Dante Lam has found a formula that has widespread appeal outside the People’s Republic.
In Another World With My Smartphone
(15) Out now
This 12-episode anime series, based on the young-adult light novels of the same name, is best described as inoffensive.
It’s centred on Touya Mochizuki, a 15-year-old who was reborn into another world by way of an apology for his accidental death at God’s hands.
Except he brings his smartphone with him too.
So far, so reasonable, at least as far as many anime framing devices go.
Fluffy, fantasy-world shenanigans ensue, with a motley crew of quickly accumulated friends.
It’s a comfy palate-cleanser, as opposed to the sweeping style of adventure often seen in the isekai genre (isekai literally translates as “another world”), where the protagonist is dropped into a different reality from their own.
Touya is as bland as isekai protagonists get, although it’s somewhat refreshing to have a main character who is generally calm, accepts things for what they are and uses them for his own good as opposed to a blundering fool or tormented hero (looking at you, Re:Zero and Sword Art Online).
It’s as generic as it comes, but fits tonally with the series’ philosophy of having fun as opposed to trying to become a grand hero.
The plot trundles along at a reasonable pace, but as long as you go in expecting a gentle show that happens to take place in a fantasy world, instead of a dramatic quest series, it should still prove moderately entertaining.
MOST READ IN FILM
(15) Out Nov 5
Part horror and part kitchen sink drama, this 1978 Aussie film, newly rereleased on Blu-ray, is a slow starter but don’t let that put you off.
A dysfunctional couple head to a secluded beach campsite for a weekend, but the darkness at the heart of their relationship gradually spills out.
And all the while, their careless dealings with the natural world around them seem destined to rebound on them as surely as a boomerang.
The air of menace is ratcheted up to boiling point, and although it’s difficult to know where the film is heading, or even what’s real or not at some points, it’s increasingly gripping.
That’s some feat in a film where both the lead characters are deliberately unsympathetic, especially the late John Hargreaves as the arrogant, boorish husband who gets a kick out of destroying the world around him. Brit actress Briony Behets also acquits herself well as his downtrodden wife.
The heavy symbolism will keep churning through your mind long afterwards, although you’re unlikely to want to brave camping for a while.
As Dame Edna Everage would say, it’s marvellous, possums!