One of the more intriguing film offerings of the first half of 2018 has been a movie that takes a normal kids game and tries to turn it into a no-holds-barred comedy experience. I am of course speaking about “Tag” which brings together an all-star cast to depict a true story that was once a popular article in the Wall Street Journal. With a freshman director in Jeff Tomsic and several big names on board bringing their own unique styles to the screen “Tag” had the potential to be a fun comedy romp or an overbloated mess. Which result did we get? Well let’s find out. This is my review of “Tag”.
WHAT’S IT ABOUT
“Tag”, which really is based on a true story as the previews keep reminding us, follows a group of friends who have continued to play the titular kids game for the entire month of May for over thirty years as a way of keeping in touch with each other and making sure their childhood bonds stay intact. The group consists of self-proclaimed child at heart Hoagie (Ed Helms), successful business leader Bob (Jon Hamm), stoner and alcoholic Chilli (Jake Johnson), the overly analytic and deep-minded Sable (Hannibal Buress) and Jerry (Jeremy Renner) who is the only one of the crew to never be tagged in the game. The group plays by a specific set of rules created in their childhood including no girls, although Hoggie’s wife Anna (Isla Risher) is often involved in his plans to tag his friends. When Hoggie reveals Jerry is planning to retire from the game after his upcoming wedding the crew sets out to finally tag their untaggable friend with Wall Street Journal writer Rebecca (Annabelle Wallis) in tow. Forced to put the game on hold during any wedding functions by Jerry’s soon-to-be wife (Leslie Bibb) the crew must work around Jerry’s competitive nature and traps to try and finally tag the one player left with a perfect record before the end of his wedding.
It’s become a cliché on my blog now that when I look at comedies I look at one of two things. If it’s a more subtle comedy I examine how well the laughs fit into the narrative and if it’s meant to be an all-out laugh fest I look at how well the filmmakers embrace the humor meant to permeate the story. “Tag” is definitely in the latter category and while it may lack substance in its story it certainly is not short on laughs and makes the most of its oddball setup. Let’s face it most of the audience is going into “Tag” looking to see how a child’s game is worked into a quirky comedy scenario and if that’s truly what you’re looking for “Tag” doesn’t disappoint going completely over the top in its portrayal of the titular game with bodily injury, creative scenarios and even some neat send-ups to other movie genres. Jeff Tomsic (in his directorial debut) and writers Rob McKittrick and Mark Steilen succeed in taking a simple premise of adults playing tag and stretching it out to a credible feature length production that’s fun, feels fresh and keeps you laughing the whole way through with a blend of different comedic approaches from not only the story, but the actors as well.
Each member of the cast provides a different personality for their character which helps them remain unique in relation to each other and provides them with their own approach to the game of tag. Jeremy Renner’s Jerry, who has never been tagged, is cocky and backs that personality up with amazing skills including slow motion and inner dialogue reminiscent of the “Sherlock Holmes” movies from a few years ago starring Robert Downey, Jr. Ed Helms’ Hoagie is more childish and youthful with some adult flair while Jon Hamm’s Bob is an overconfident and pretentious businessman who always thinks he is right. Jake Johnson portrays a stoner who sleeps through life and thus never makes smart decisions in the game and Hannibal Buress portrays the deep-thinking and dry moral center of the bunch. These combined personalities, along with the rest of the cast, provide a great group of people to bring the action to life and together they’re quite charming if a bit underdeveloped. The cast make each characters’ decisions and approaches to the game completely believable. This also drives home Jerry’s dominance of the game because he is talented enough to work around each player’s weakness while also embracing his own flaws. Most of all though the cast seems to be having a lot of fun at each other’s’ expense, which helps the viewer invest in the humor as well. Considering the odd premise of the film, “Tag” required a group of committed performers who could own the idea of playing a game from their childhood and thankfully they sell it perfectly and never take the experience too seriously, although it could have used a bit more sincerity which I’ll touch on down the road.
The comedy and over-the-top antics are definitely the best reasons to see this movie. It doesn’t go full prank comedy, but it does provide some creative scenarios and brings more laughs than groans which is always important for a project like this. The funny part is we come to find out at the end that some of these ideas were lifted straight from the men who play the real-life game which is a nice touch to a movie that honestly didn’t need to go too heavy on the realism to be enjoyable. This movie does have plenty of flaws that I’ll delve into in a minute, but the important thing to note here is that “Tag” as an all-out comedy gets the job done and provides plenty of quality entertainment with creative set pieces, neat cinematography and a concept that plays out much better than you might expect.
WHAT DIDN’T WORK
Although I found the movie mostly enjoyable and the concept certainly unique and engaging, “Tag” has plenty of flaws that prevent it from being anywhere near perfect by any stretch of the imagination. One of its biggest issues is a lack of heart. “Tag” tries to inject some emotional significance into the plot but it does nothing with it. Throughout the film we hear several characters, mainly Ed Helms’ Hoagie, talk about how playing tag even at an older age preserves their sense of youth and friendship and we also see some moments where the members of the group start to become discouraged by how little they really know each other and how they’ve drifted apart. But I repeat that the story does nothing with any of this. They’re simple moments that are here and then gone almost like they were nothing more than token moments to add some relevance to the concept rather than making “Tag” just a nonstop prank fest.
There was plenty of potential to make this movie a story about the bonds of friendship but that’s all wasted as deeper moments are used as nothing more than tools to push the plot. One example is when the group finds out that Jerry is at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. They feel bad for a second because Jerry never told them he was a recovering abuser, but then the idea is just left alone and they turn Jerry’s situation into a way to ambush him. The idea is just dropped completely and used simply as a setup to the next scene when it could have added some great depth to the relationships of the characters and maybe touched on how simply playing a game isn’t what it takes to keep friends together. There are lots of these moments littered throughout the movie that add no real depth to the narrative despite their potential. “Tag” settles for dropping its more tender moment in favor of the intense moments and fails to find any balance between them.
There is a lot that happens throughout “Tag” and much of it is fun but the transitions are messy, the script is a bit basic, the side conflict are phoned in a summarized at best as nothing more than bumps in the road and we even get the always interesting emotional moment that stops the movie in its tracks that seems to be a must have for most comedies dating back to the 90s. Basically anything that takes place outside the actual game of tag is formulaic at best and director Jeff Tomsic doesn’t seem to know how to find balance in the project. “Tag” might be a rip roaring good time in its own right, but that’s all it is a fun time with a wasted message and choppy editing and storytelling that settles for the minimum when it’s all said and done. “Tag” far from unwatchable but we’ve seen better. For example “Game Night” was a similar movie from earlier this year but it did more than cash in on it’s concept. It also included some heartfelt sincerity in the narrative and provided more than just style. It also contained substance. “Tag” settles for all style and minimal substance forsaking what could have been some great concepts to make it more than just an action comedy with a unique premise.
“Tag” is a take it or leave it kind of movie and it really depends on what you’re looking for. If you’re coming into it looking to see a game of tag go completely out of control and watch grown men hurt each other for the sake of a kids game then it does the trick and offers some hilarious moments that will keep you smiling. However, if you want to see a comedy movie with a bit more substance then you’re in the wrong place. “Tag” wastes an opportunity to speak to the child in all of us and doesn’t really find balance between the central message its trying to evoke and the fun its trying to embrace. Still, it has a charming cast to help keep it on its feet and make it a lot more than it ever deserved to be in the first place. As far as comedies go I had a fun time watching it and I could take it or leave it a second time around. It’s an average movie, but it’s a fun movie and I can’t say the idea was wasted because if there’s one this this film does right it’s turn a simple game from our youth into a crazy, over the top experience that in itself is worth the price of admission.