A film review by Craig J. Koban June 28, 2018

TAG jj

2018, R, 100 mins.


Ed Helms as Hoagie  /  Jeremy Renner as Jerry  /  Jon Hamm as Callahan  /  Hannibal Buress as Sable  /  Annabelle Wallis as Rebecca  /  Isla Fisher as Anna  /  Jake Johnson as Randy  /  Rashida Jones as Cheryl  /  Leslie Bibb as Susan  /  Nora Dunn as Linda

Directed by Jeff Tomsic  /  Written by  Rob McKittrick and Mark Steilen




Full disclosure:  

I was never a big Tag fan growing up.  I never felt that every player was on an equal playing field and it absolutely favored the most dexterous and quick.  

Now, Hide and Seek...oh boy...that was a great game, and far more democratic minded.  You could be absolutely athletically challenged and still succeed at it, especially if you had good instincts and could disappear in the most unlikely and difficult to find areas.  Moreover, there seemed to be more strategy involved in Hide and Seek, something that the woefully simplistic Tag lacked.   

After seeing the very specifically named TAG I may be changing my tune a little bit regarding this pastime.  This comedy that has a premise as patently far fetched and illogical as they come - a group of friends have been playing the same game of Tag...every year...during the month of May...for thirty years. 

Thirty.  Years.   That's a three with a zero on the end. 

By the way, this is based - as incredulous as it is to believe - on a true story. 



Taking loose inspiration from a 2013 Wall Street Journal article about a group of pals from Spokane, Washington that have been partaking in the aforementioned three decade Tag game, TAG joyously and absurdly chronicles the lifelong pack that these seemingly crazy individuals have made to ensure that their chief childhood pursuit remains alive and active in the present.  In a way, TAG has an awfully sentimental center amidst all of its hard R-rated shenanigans.  It stresses the importance of staying connected with the most important people in your life, especially when the complexities of life and adult responsibilities keep serving as a separating force.   As a celebration of human connection - albeit via some incredibly unorthodox means - TAG is rather charming and winning reality based comedy.  Having said all of that, not all of this film works so winningly, seeing as it faces many hurtles on an execution level.  That, and there's also something to be said about, well, the unavoidable meaninglessness of some pursuits that many could easily consider a colossal waste of time. 

TAG deserves props, though, for wholeheartedly embracing its out-there premise with a real enthusiastic aplomb while understanding all of the limitless slapstick possibilities of men in their thirties and forties playing a child's game without a care in the world...as to who cares.  The five bosom buddies for life - Hoagie (Ed Helms), Callahan (Jon Hamm), Randy (Jake Johnson), Sable (Hannibal Buress) and Jerry (Jeremy Renner) - began a very, very serious tradition in their youth of playing Tag for thirty days every year, and it was a hobby so solemn that they've never been able to give it up.  Despite pursuing different career paths in different cities all over the country, every May they find a way to convene in order to pass on the "it" to the next victim, who in turn will pass it on...and so on and so on.  They also have a very strict set of rules that they all adhere to (like, for instance, being able to scream "truce" during a particularly bad moment when the game could interfere with other grave matters that require attention).  All of these men take the game and its established rules as serious as a heart attack, even when the sight of a man in a suit chasing after another to tag him in broad daylight and in front of befuddled onlookers looks beyond silly. 

Every year the main goal remains the same with the game - tag the ever-elusive Jerry, who has - through some Herculean perseverance, planning, and quick wits - never once been tagged in thirty years.  Not.  Once.  Now that he's about to be married to the love of his life (Leslie Bibb), it seems that the time might be right for the gang to finally nab him.  Joined by Hoagie's wife Anna (Isla Fisher) and a Wall Street Journal reporter in Rebecca (Annabelle Wallis) that's been interviewing Callahan about his corporate wheeling and dealing, the whole squad begins formulating a plan of attack to entrap and tag Jerry, but he, rather predictably, proves even harder to tag than ever before. 

It's so easy to be seduced into this strange movie, primarily because of the fantastic cast assembled, all of whom display a wonderfully breezy and spontaneous chemistry that makes you truly believe that these men have been BFFs all of their lives.  They also miraculously make us believe in this cockamamie premise, especially in scene after scene of them plotting and executing (sometimes well, sometimes not so well) boobie traps and ambushes to tag their targets.  The early sequences in the film are wickedly amusing, like seeing Hoagie - who has a PhD in veterinary science - get a janitorial job at Callahan's company just so he can disguise and infiltrate himself through the building's tight security in order to take Callahan off guard and...tag him.  When the film gets revved up and shows the men trying to gang up on and trap their holy grail target in Jerry it hits its stride; the slow motion sequences displaying Jerry cunningly evading every tag while giving audiences a play-by-play monologue of how he's doing it (akin to the fight scenes in SHERLOCK HOLMES) are an unmitigated hoot.  There's a special joy to be had in TAG in seeing Jerry - a lean and mean fitness instructor - evade his friends tags at every major turn.  Equally side-splittingly  is seeing Hoagie and company getting increasingly agitated at Jerry's super human untouchability. 

For a long period of its running time I was thoroughly taken in with TAG and was simply going with it from one nonsensical moment to the next.  This film has an unstoppable comedic energy at times that's quite infectious.  The longer the film progresses, though, the more problems slip through the cracks.  In particular, I didn't like the treatment of the supporting female characters here at all.  Fisher plays a hostile and potty mouthed aggressor that hurtles F-bomb riddled insults at her husband and his pals to keep their eye on the prize that grows more irritating and unflattering as the film progresses.  Then there's another female character arbitrarily thrown in for hopeful good measure in Cheryl (Rashida Jones), an old flame that came between Randy and Callahan that never once pays off as as much as she should have.  Lastly, there's the woefully tagged on (no pun intended) role of Wallis' journalist, who appears early on to interview Callahan and then serves absolute no function whatsoever to the narrative drive of the plot, but then needlessly and redundantly continues to follow Callahan and his companions as they play their game of tag as a sidekick character of sorts.  Rebecca's inclusion throughout the entirety of TAG is utterly pointless.

Rather bizarrely, TAG takes a very weird and dark turn in its final act, featuring a medical emergency that threatens the gang's game forever that, I guess, was trying to inject some dramatic pathos into the story that never really once seems to have required or earned it (the manner that the writers lazily manipulate audiences towards a feel good ending that mixes heartfelt drama and laughs is so mismanaged).  This is too bad, because I was this close to giving TAG a marginal recommendation.  As a high concept action comedy inspired by a true story, the film is unpretentiously enjoyable and the cast here really sells the premise with a straight laced sincerity and conviction.  Plus, it mixes raunch with sweetness better than most scatological comedies of its ilk.  I only wished that it showed more precision and care with some supporting characters and narrative detours, which, unfortunately, derailed the film.  TAG does end on a high note, showing actual footage of the real life friends in question playing their annual game and engaging in stunts that somehow make the outrageous ones in the film feel that much more credible in hindsight.  Then again, maybe this subject matter would have worked better as a full length documentary than a screwball comedy. 

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