As ensemble studio comedies go, this is definitely one of them.
People often sing Facebook’s praises as the ideal way to stay connected with old friends and maintain a bond that might otherwise fade away over time. That may work for some folks, but for five friends who’ve known each other since they were kids it’s just not cutting it. Instead, for the entire month of May every year, they play an epic game of tag. It was easy as kids living in the same neighborhood, but as adults it’s required elaborate planning, sneak attacks, disguises, and more.
Thirty years later, though, and the fun might be coming to an end. Jerry (Jeremy Renner) is the only one of the group to have never been tagged — not once in three decades — and he’s planning to retire from the game after this season. Hogan (Ed Helms) isn’t about to let him go out on top, and after discovering Jerry’s secretly getting married in the final week of May he organizes a group effort to take him down. Bob (Jon Hamm), Kevin (Hannibal Buress), and Randy (Jake Johnson) join Hogan’s plan, and in their quest to not be this year’s loser they become winners at friendship instead.
So that’s nice.
Tag is inspired by the true story of friends who’ve been playing the game for decades, and some of its montage action is directly inspired by their real antics, but the bulk of the game-play here has been heightened to exaggerate the painful, action-oriented nature of it all. It’s basically been Hollywood-ized, and while that’s to be expected and will appeal greatly to audiences who can’t get enough pratfalls and wince-inducing body slams, the rest of the film’s comedy is a bit less impactful.
Director Jeff Tomsic‘s feature debut captures those action beats well enough with sequences that slow down, ramp up, and tease an engaging style, but it falters when forced to rely solely on the script by Rob McKittrick and Mark Steilen which focuses — at least at first — on generic themes, interactions, and dialogue. The characters aren’t all that interesting as they battle it out for physical dominance, and while their club’s absence of female members is understandable seeing as it stems from childhood it has an ugly side evident in the presence of Hogan’s wife Anna (Isla Fisher).
One of the film’s running gags is that she’s too “intense” to play, and they cut her down repeatedly with the accusation every time she gets excited. The guys, meanwhile, are diving through glass windows, executing sneak attacks during AA meetings, delivering surprise slaps, clothes-lining each other at high speed, and more — but while Anna’s enthusiasm is labeled as being out of control and over the top their own is played for casual, non-critical laughs. Fisher’s good fun in the role, but you just want her to walk away from these losers sooner rather than later. Similarly, Jerry’s soon-to-be wife Susan (Leslie Bibb) is also deemed high-strung for the intensity she displays over wanting her wedding to be perfect.
Like Fisher, the rest of the cast makes the most of their opportunities and finds some laughs along the way. Helms and Johnson are stuck in their most common one-note personas, anxious guy and slacker, respectively, but they’re amusing enough. The saving grace on the comedy side of things, though, comes from the other two. Hamm continues to be a terrifically dry comic performer, and Buress steals pretty much every scene he gets to speak in. Renner, meanwhile, is fine, but despite the marketing and his central role in the story he’s relegated to supporting player.
Regardless of the mileage you find in the film’s comedy, though, Tag ultimately succeeds in the end by doing what you knew it was going to do — finding some heart — and by doing it pretty damn well. No spoilers here, but it finds a way to tackle truths about their friendship and the lengths they’ll go to for the game in a way that leaves you smiling more than most of the more purely comedic bits managed. To that end, it employs something of a The Game vibe as both characters and viewers are often unsure if something is real or staged, and like the recent (and far funnier Game Night) it finds humor in the anticipation of the reveal.
Tag is entertaining enough as the handful of laughs, the stylish action beats, and the heartfelt ending combine into an enjoyable and forgettable romp. Just don’t slap anyone on your way out of the theater. Or do. It’s your life.