Published Jun 14, 2018In 2013, The Wall Street Journal published a sweet and silly human interest story by Russell Adams about a group of grown men who had obsessively played tag throughout their school days and just never stopped. As adults, the friends from Spokane, WA, dedicate one month of every year to hiding in trunks of cars, impersonating senior citizens and persuading spouses across enemy lines to leave doors unlocked to rid themselves of the dreaded "it" status.
And then, Hollywood asked to tag in and spoiled the game — like the kind of friend who claims they got you when they didn't, and then fakes an injury to avoid being "it."
Out of the old Spokane gang, Jeremy Renner's gym owner Jerry is the undefeated champ; he's never been tagged and he defends that title with a combination of Bourne-like kicks and Holmes-ian calculations. To friends Hoagie (Ed Helms), Callahan (Jon Hamm), Sable (Hannibal Buress) and perpetually stoned Chili (Jake Johnson), Jerry's upcoming nuptials to Susan (Leslie Bibb) present an opportunity: The fuss of the wedding will bring Jerry's guard down, and one of them may claim Jerry's tag virginity (their suitably teenage analogy).
The elaborate ruses that make up the bulk of the film are funny (yet characters are often revealing themselves five minutes too early, thus negating the clever planning) but one ploy in the third act involving Susan's pregnancy puts the film in a bind that's hard to come back from — suddenly, one has to face that these characters are bad people. It makes one wonder how the real-life counterparts will feel seeing their hijinks given this cynical flavour.
To be fair, Tag has a lot of exciting energy and gives each character a chance to charm; Buress is adorably clueless and zen as he eats Cheetos instead of keeping watch, and Renner's confidence as an action star translates into an enjoyably watchable performance. Helms transcends his usual wide-eyed rubbernecking by countering it with a touch of restrained hopelessness that hints that this is much more than just a game to him; a departure from comedy for Helms might reveal yet unexplored potential.
Weak links are found in the beautiful reporter Rebecca (playing the Russell Adams proxy), who spends her time visibly absorbed with keeping her features symmetrical instead of acting, and Hamm is just boring, revealing nothing of the, uh, hamminess that he brings to roles in Wet Hot American Summer and The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.
With all the elements of an engaging hook, radical stunts and charismatic actors, Tag could've been a real romp, combining elements of Home Alone and The Big Chill. Instead, we get the Roadrunner jerking off onto Wile. E. Coyote's childhood teddy bear and limp jokes about the convenience of a romantic rival's death.
The film is capped off by real-life footage of the pals who inspired the story, and it's in that moment of seeing the goofy low-key sneaking around and bear hugs between old pals that you realize Tag could have made for a heartwarming documentary, or a fun YouTube video. The story simply didn't need all this fuss.