Tag (2018): 5 out of 10: is a comedy film inspired by a true story, revolving around the concept of a game that transcends the boundaries of time, friendship, and geographical limitations.
The plot follows a group of five highly competitive friends – Hogan “Hoagie” Malloy (Ed Helms), Bob Callahan (Jon Hamm), Randy “Chilli” Cilliano (Jake Johnson), Kevin Sable (Hannibal Buress), and Jerry Pierce (Jeremy Renner)- who have been playing an elaborate, cross-country game of tag since their childhood days. The tradition stretches over thirty years, having begun in their school days and continuing well into their adulthood.
Every year in the month of May, the game resumes and the players go to hilarious lengths to avoid being “it,” dedicating time and resources to outwit each other. The friends take turns traveling across the country, plotting intricate schemes and stunts, often disrupting their personal lives and careers but maintaining the bond that the game has created.
However, Jerry, the most athletic among them, has never been tagged even once in all these years, a fact that bothers the rest of the group. When Hoagie discovers that Jerry plans to retire after his wedding, making him virtually untouchable, the friends decide this is their last opportunity to tag him. As Jerry’s wedding approaches, the friends plan an all-out assault to make sure he doesn’t retire undefeated.
“Tag” is a testament to the endurance of friendship, showing how these friends keep their childhood bonds alive through a silly, chaotic, yet immensely enjoyable tradition. Despite its absurd premise, the movie is ultimately a warmhearted tribute to lasting friendships and the lengths to which people will go to stay connected.
The Good: “There was jail time involved. I briefly converted to Islam. I lost a long legal battle with Joanne Fabrics.” The preacher played by Sebastian Maniscalco is a hoot. In fact, there are some very funny bits and performances in Tag. It is not an awful film, just an uneven and average one.
I am a fan of the cast. Jon Hamm can be hilarious. His turn in everything from Progressive commercials to Travel Man with Richard Ayoade to 30 Rock are relaxed and brilliant. I am also a fan of Jeremy Renner, who plays his elusive tag opponent perfectly.
Among the rest of the cast, a true standout to me was Jake Johnson, taking a potential standard stoner character and making it his own and three dimensional to boot.
The Bad: Let’s talk about tone for a minute. Okay stop booing… here, let’s instead ask a question. Why is Tag rated R? Because they swear every other word and Jermey Remer threatens to masturbate with Ed Helms’ childhood teddy bear. Yes, okay, but why?
The material certainly does not suggest such things. It is based on a human interest piece from the Wall Street Journal turned into a CBS Sunday morning piece. So why take a group of friends from Catholic school who used their childhood game as a way to stay in touch and turn it into an “R” rated comedy?
If you’re a regular reader of Cinematic Diversions, you may know that my usual objection is in the other direction. PG-13 horror films. Teen sex comedies with no nudity, that kind of thing, but here (and in my recollection possibly for the first time) I think they missed the mark the other way. Perhaps they were trying to capture The Hangover crowd. Whatever the filmmakers motive, it seems jarring.
Now in all fairness, Tag incorporates the original groups high jinks into its script. One member of the group really tagged another at his father’s funeral. They really travel thousands of miles to wear a disguise and ambush thier fellow players. And yes, some of those disguises involve wearing woman’s clothing.
What the real life pursuit does not seem to include is a lot of destruction of property and various felonies. But you know what? Leave in the over the top high jinks and property destruction and you still have that weird feeling that the filmmakers could have easily done a PG-13 family comedy (think Grumpy Old Men).
Tag’s writers and director desperately wanted to make an R rated comedy and found themselves with a subject that was more suited for… well, for CBS Sunday Morning.
The Ugly: I see Wall Street Journal reporter Russell Adams is now a blonde woman and a potential love interest. The poor bastard has been “Patched” So if there is a movie being made about someone you know and they changed your character from the handsome, successful dude you are to blonde woman, would you rather be played by Monica Potter or Richard Harris’s niece Annabelle Wallis?
Speaking of Patch Adams… Ed Helms is kind of there. He is not objectionable. He is safe, vanilla. Ed Helms is no Steve Carell. Steve Carell is this generation’s Robin Williams. Mainly because, like Robin Williams, Steve Carell can make some truly horrifying films. For Robin, we have Patch Adams, of course, and Bicentennial Man. With Steve Carrel, we have the one where he plays Noah and Welcome to Marwen. But Carrel is also capable of brilliant work. (Foxcatcher, Despicable Me) and he can take a vanilla character and move the needle. Ed Helms is such a straight man, he is just kind of there. And I get it. That is his thing. The man owns beige. Making him the dramatic center of Tag, however, doesn’t play to his strengths.
In Conclusion: Tag is a fun comedy about grown men taking a child’s game way too seriously. It has some pretty fun moments and is worth a watch. It is an average comedy that will entertain while watching it, but that’s about it. And sometimes maybe that’s all we need to ask from a movie. It’s no Caddyshack, but then again, it is no Caddyshack II either.