By now, audiences are accustomed to seeing film after film touting its basis on a “true story.” However, not very often does such a tagline come attached to a comedy, especially one as broad and seemingly far-fetched as Tag. Yet, here we are with one of this summer’s most promising comedies.
Director Jeff Tomsic’s film follows a group of childhood friends engaged in a 30-year rendition of the titular playground pastime. For one month every year, Hoagie (Ed Helms), Bob (Jon Hamm), Sable (Hannibal Buress) and Chilli (Jake Johnson) keep their ongoing game of tag alive, and this year, they decide to join forces to finally tag the elusive Jerry (Jeremy Renner) for the first time before he gets married and retires from the game for good. In a race against time, the quartet reunites, and the mission to take down Jerry together begins at last.
Plot-wise, that about covers it. Shenanigans occur, as Hoagie and friends — make no mistake, Helms is essentially the main character here — throw their lives into disarray in pursuit of their greatest game yet. Yes, Tag goes some pretty goofy and outlandish places (some of which are unwisely spoiled in the film’s trailer), but the script by Rob McKittrick and Mark Steilen grounds it all with the central friendship between the five men and even finds an interesting way to weave in the real-life Wall Street Journal article on which the film itself is based.
Even with that emotional grounding, Tag does struggle in places to balance its sentiment with its bid for nonstop hilarity. A few plot points threaten to take the humor a bit too far for its relatively carefree tone, and a third-act twist does wind up ringing a bit false in light of the over-the-top tale that precedes it. Nonetheless, the performances — as well as the spastic energy running through the film — keep it from losing its way completely. In particular, Jerry’s continued escapes offer some of the most fun moments, with Renner slipping into a Sherlock Holmes-esque slow-motion voice-over as he anticipates his opponents’ moves.
While his absence from Avengers: Infinity War left some fans overzealous about Hawkeye’s role in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Renner is perfectly cast as the insanely competitive undefeated champion of this particular game of tag. Likewise, Hamm, Johnson and especially Helms get to tap into their substantial comedic backgrounds, with Helms playing most closely to the image he’s cultivated from films like The Hangover trilogy. However, it is Hannibal Buress, an actor far better known for his stand-up than his film roles, who winds up being the scene-stealer and keeper of the film’s best one-liners. Aided by his laid-back delivery, Buress perfectly contrasts with his manic co-stars, easily emerging as the most valuable player in this game of Tag. It’s not hard or unwelcome to imagine his presence on the big screen expanding quickly following the film’s release.
There’s an irresistible madcap nature to many of the film’s best sequences, which makes some of the more lackluster and sprawling subplots all the more distracting from the main action. Rashida Jones, for instance, pops up intermittently for an undercooked love triangle with Johnson and Hamm, and Annabelle Wallis’s role as a reporter along for the ride leaves the actress with almost nothing to do for most of the runtime. Actually, the female stars of Tag in general are largely underserved. Only Isla Fisher as Helm’s hot-tempered wife and Leslie Bibb as Renner’s bride-to-be have anything remotely resembling a strong presence, and even then, it’s only in service of their significant others’ childish ways.
So far 2018 has proven to be a solid year for comedies, and Tomsic’s film keeps that trend alive for at least a little while longer. Although films like Life of the Party and I Feel Pretty each overcame critical derision to turn a tidy profit, others like Ocean’s 8 and Blockers made a bigger splash. Of course, the 2018 hit that most closely corresponds to Tag is this year’s other game-themed R-rated comedy. The Jason Bateman-Rachel McAdams vehicle Game Night might still edge it out on a pure laugh-per-minute level, but Tag still promises a fun night at the movies for anyone looking for some escapist antics.
Like many other summer movies currently playing in theaters, Tag is the kind of film that benefits from turning off your brain and just rolling with the by-the-minute punches. The scenarios in which its stars find themselves are beyond silly but rooted by a mostly well-told narrative setup and a winning set of lead performances. While its earnest streak doesn’t quite gel with its wackier set pieces, Tag is ultimately as breezy as a round of its eponymous game. Even though it’s not necessarily an experience you’ll never forget, there are far worse ways to spend a couple hours with some friends.