Five grown up men bring us a new comedy this season in a relentlessly funny film about a no-holds-barred game of tag that follows a group of friends into adulthood. It stars a two-time Oscar nominee and a Best Dramatic Actor Emmy winner. The boyhood game has a rule of ‘no-girl-allowed’ and, it’s based on a true story.
Hoagie (Ed Helms), Bob(Jon Hamm), and Hoagie's fanatical tag-freak wife Anna (a scene-stealing Isla Fisher) keep the crazy game on from Denver to Portland and eventually to Spokane, where the bunch grew up together. The game calls for some action in James Bond and Bourne Ultimatum style, dashing through apartments and fire escapes to nab "Chili" (Jake Johnson). They hide out at a therapist’s office to get out Sable (Hannibal Buress) mid-session. All this action leads to the semi-mythical Jerry (Jeremy Renner) who is so good and fast with this game that he has never been caught in 30 years. He is that fast!
With a Wall Street Journal reporter (Annabelle Wallis) in tow, the boys have planned Jerry’s upcoming wedding as their best chance to pin him down. But Jerry has thought through every possible scenario.
The comedy in Tag isn’t goofy, satirical or overtly broad (remember Dodgeball-another movie based on a schoolyard game?). These guys are focused on getting their mark and take their tag seriously. And the ensuing cat-and-mouse antics range between hugely insipid and vaguely inspired. Ever so intense Renner, with his uber-cool looks, shows off his determined character, sensing and anticipating his friend’s every move every time the group sets a trap for him. His comic timing with Helms is good with the latter taking the brunt of the hits.
Tag takes its narrative liberties with Director Jeff Tomsic giving us plenty of slapstick moments and guy-friendly gags. Slow-mo action sequences add to the fun (surprisingly!) especially when the boys are trying to tag Jerry. And when they go for it in slow motion, with their over-exaggerated reactions and pratfalls, it is hilarious!
The subplot involving an old romantic rivalry between Chili and Bob over a newly widowed crush (Rashida Jones) looks a little bit overdone. The rules for the game are decades-old by-laws scrawled on wide-ruled paper and amendments to those by-laws drawn around the wedding, at the insistence of Jerry's high-strung bride-to-be (Leslie Bibb). Throughout, the viewer is reminded of the quote by George Bernard Shaw, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” We see this group of adult-boys completely live up to these words. Tag keeps them young or at least acting like it until their knees give out vaulting a fire escape.
The chemistry between the five protagonists is apparent. Helms, Johnson, and Buress all handle the quick-witted improvised moments with aplomb. Hamm’s versatility is good to watch while Renner also proves how flexible he can be. Although he must have had a blast doing this because he could incorporate some of those action skills we know he has and looks so damn slick doing it compared to the other actors.
Tosmic rarely gets a chance for a directorial flair. But the plot does quickly shift into a thriller when there is a sense of Jerry being in danger. The shadows sharpen, harsh white light rakes against Renner’s skin, and suddenly the Bourne Legacy hero leaps from comedy to the action ground. This is the first opportunity for Renner to prove he can swing on and off between action and comedy.
Why Tag succeeds is because it goes beyond just the silly comedy and dives deeper into these guys’ lives, showing how they really have needed each other all these years. The underlying theme of the movie is friendship and having those people in your life who really know you, and will always be there for you. This emotional resonance in this utterly comedy film is actually a little surprising. That and the chemistry between the lead actors makes the film a fine callback to the sprawling ensemble comedies of the 1980s. It’s a solid summer film and if it does well, you can guarantee that the studio that churned out three Hangovers is hoping for a sequel. After all, this game never ends.