Tag is bad. The kind of bad that makes it tempting to leave the theatre twenty minutes in, after the first two elaborate sequences have run their course and it’s apparent the movie is going nowhere comedically or emotionally.
The premise is based on a real story, following the exploits of five grown men who get together once a year to play an ongoing game of tag. Hoagie (Ed Helms), Bob (Jon Hamm), Chilli (Jake Johnson), Kevin (Hannibal Buress) and Jerry (Jeremy Renner) grew up in Spokane, Washington, and all but Jerry left to find their own futures, bound by their endless game. The premise is charming and has a lot of potential, especially given the group’s creative methods of tagging their friends.
But just read the original Wall Street Journal article that made their story famous. This movie offers nothing for your time.
The problem is apparent from the start, as the entire film lacks a grounding logic. I’m not saying it doesn’t “make sense” because stories don’t necessarily have to “make sense.” I’m not nitpicking the physical unreality of their game. Rather, the script essentially re-invents the nature of their game and their relationships with each consecutive scene. It is stunningly uneven. The first sequence follows Hoagie sneaking into Bob’s Fortune 100 company as a janitor just to lay a tag on Bob while he is being interviewed by a Wall Street Journal reporter.
The implication is that the game is ongoing, tricks are a necessity and time is of the essence … yet we learn their game has been ongoing throughout the month of May for years. The tricks — which should be fun for what they say about the relationships between the characters and therefore could be as simple as surprising someone in a shower or at a funeral (as we see in the “real-life players” clips during the credits) — only become more and more needlessly elaborate. All sense of character is lost. Their dressing is disguise for the movie, never the story.
Worse, still, is the fact that any momentary glimpse into the lives of the men is brushed off in favor of antics. For instance, we learn Jerry has never been tagged. His ability to avoid his friends throughout the month of May is legendary. His commitment is incredible. Hoagie is obsessed with tagging Jerry and recruits his friends to combine their efforts. At one point it’s revealed Jerry is in Alcoholics Anonymous, and the group use his attendance to trap him in the church. “Shouldn’t we be concerned he’s an alcoholic,” one of them asks, as a punchline.
The problem is even more glaring when one of them reveals a terminal illness. The illness is used as an excuse to end the movie — but you’re never sure until the credits roll whether it’s legitimate or not. They lie to each other about everything. Is Jerry really an alcoholic? Maybe. Is his wife really pregnant? Maybe. Is he even really getting married? It’s a paranoia that doesn’t match the relationships. The story is ungrounded by its desperation for laughs and endless budget for antics that the audience simply can’t trust any trials these characters endure. It is the most disingenuous big-screen comedy all year.
Finding a way to work women into a group of five boys was a high task for the screenwriters, whose solution was adding a woman for (almost) each of them. Isla Fisher plays Hoagie’s wife, Anna, whose commitment to the game rivals her husband’s. Rashida Jones shows up as Cheryl Deakins, a love interest for Chilli and Bob whose biggest laugh is an implied hand job during a flashback. Leslie Bibb plays Susan Rollins, Jerry’s fiancée and cohort. Annabelle Wallis plays Rebecca Crosby, the journalist brought along to record their exploits. They’re not allowed in the game but play their supporting roles as best they can, similarly unmoored from any real emotional weight or character consistency.
Worst of all, Tag is simply boring. It repeats set-ups and punchlines repeatedly. How many times can Isla Fisher hit someone or call them a bitch? How many times can someone get hit by a projectile and be called a bitch? What about a dude getting pantsed to reveal soft underwear? LOL! It’s just shit. Don’t bother.