A group of middle-aged friends have been playing the same children’s game for more than two decades in Tag, a fitfully fun and even occasionally laugh-out-loud new comedy that successfully overcomes its ridiculous premise.
Here’s the thing: capture the flag I can get behind. Rock-paper-scissors, sure. Musical chairs and you’re stretching it. But tag? The most basic children’s game of all is barely interesting enough to keep a six-year-old engaged for a single session.
Indeed, the premise is so absurd that no writer could invent it: the final montage of Tag features home video footage of the real-life group of friends that have playing tag for the past 23 years, and the real-life front page Wall Street Journal story that covered their exploits. Go figure.
In Tag, the group of friends includes doctor Hoagie (Ed Helms), CEO Bob (Jon Hamm), stoner Chilli (Jake Johnson), and Reggie (Hannibal Buress), who all live in different cities but keep an eye over their shoulder each May when one of their buddies might pop up and make them ‘it.’
There are no winners in Tag, only a loser who is forced to wear the brand of it until the following year when they can relieve themselves of the shame. But the superhuman Jerry (Jeremy Renner) has, incredibly, never been tagged. You’d think these guys could sneak up on him in his sleep or wait outside his bathroom door, but he’s kept such a successful distance from his best friends that they hardly know anything about him.
Including the fact that he’s getting married this year. And up on the altar, he’ll be a sitting duck.
Tagging along for the ride are a scene-stealing Isla Fisher as Hoagie’s foul-mouthed wife with a wicked Boston accent, and Annabelle Wallis in a thankless role as the Wall Street Journal reporter covering the game, who film feels obliged to include but fails to develop in any meaningful way.
You might not think the game of Tag would be inherently cinematic, but kudos to the filmmakers (director Jeff Tomsic and writers Rob McKittrick and Mark Steilen) for managing to craft sopme engaging action scenes. The stakes may be low, but the chase sequences in Tag are surprisingly compelling and peppered with sight gags the kind of fun detail that many major action movies lack.
Best of all are Renner’s scenes as the Jason Bourne-like Tag master who can slow down time – a la Robert Downey Jr. in Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes – to analyze his surroundings and perfectly avoid every tag, every time.
It helps that the rules are clearly defined, with truces, amendments detailing no-tag scenarios, no backsies, and the fact that only one person can be it at a time, meaning that even while everyone is trying to get Jerry, they must first acquire the tag to do so. It can be hard, for example, for non-fans to get hooked into a game of Quidditch, but the basics of Tag make for a surprisingly compelling experience.
While Tag lags under sentimentality in its final third, it’s a fun-enough experience most of the way, and after Game Night and Blockers, one of 2018’s better mainstream comedies. The cast is especially fun, with Fisher, Johnson, and Buress stealing the show.
Be sure to stick around during the (surprisingly brief) closing credits for Jeremy Renner’s wonderful cover of Crash Test Dummies’ Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm, backed by members of the rest of the cast.