Tag may be the ultimate low-concept idea for a film, but this frequently hilarious comedy is, in fact, based on a true story that was published in the Wall Street Journal. A group of childhood friends continue to play the schoolyard game one month a year well into their adult lives. That’s pretty much it in terms of plot, but Tag is possibly the best extended chase film since Run, Lola, Run.
On screen, the friends are: Hoagie (Ed Helms), Callahan (Jon Hamm), “Chilli” (Jake Johnson) and Sable (Hannibal Buress), all of whom are out to get the untouchable Jerry (Jeremy Renner), who has never been “it” in thirty years of playing and wants to end the game with a perfect record.
Tag has the gang gang-up on the elusive Jerry, who probably deliberately didn’t invite them to his wedding for fear of being an easy target. At the start of the film, Hoagie is “it” and he makes a concerted effort to not just tag Callahan, but also gather everyone to go after Jerry as the window of time to get him is closing fast. Callahan—who in being interviewed by Rebecca (Annabelle Wallis), a Wall Street Journal reporter, at the time he becomes “it”—invites her to come along for the game, which she does.
Viewers will enjoy the friends’ manic antics even when there is little emphasis on who is “it.” An early episode in which Chilli tries to escape being tagged features several amusing “that’s gotta hurt” moments. And it’s hard not to chuckle during the film’s slow-motion action sequences featuring fancy martial arts stunts as when Hoagie tries to tag Jerry while disguised as an old lady with a walker. Jerry responds by wielding Hoagie’s purse like nunchucks. Even a golf cart chase soon turns into a comic game of survival in the woods. Thankfully, the film avoids step-and-repeat style action, making almost every play in the game distinctive and inventive.
Tag also gets credit not only for its slap-sticky, Three Stooges-style humor, but also for its often riotous script. There is some very clever wordplay in addition to all the horseplay. However, there are a few too many dick jokes—most notably during a set-piece involving Dave (Thomas Middleditch)—that show the guys, unsurprisingly, have a serious case of arrested development.
While Helms, Hamm, Johnson, and Renner each get their own comic moments, Hannibal Buress easily steals the film with his deadpan comic timing. He practically sneaks up on the viewer and delivers a “gotcha” laugh by just saying something droll and unexpectedly funny. Likewise, Isla Fisher, who plays Hoagie’s intensely competitive wife, generates bellylaughs as she becomes more and more aggressive as the game goes on. Alas, Annabelle Wallis, and Rashida Jones—who plays Cheryl, a love interest to rivals Callahan and Chilli—are both woefully underused.
Tag is hardly cerebral, but it is diverting fun. And there is even a little bit of heart at the film’s center, emphasizing the importance of friendship over the years, even if these guys refuse to grow up.
And be sure to stay through the final credit sequence for a memorable last gag.
Tag opens today at Philly area theaters.
Author: Gary M. Kramer
Gary M. Kramer is a Philadelphia-based freelance writer. He is the co-editor of Directory of World Cinema: Argentina. Volumes 1 and 2, and teaches seminars at the Bryn Mawr Film Institute. Follow him on Twitter @garymkramer.