Produced by Todd Garner, Mark Steilen
Screenplay by Rob McKittrick, Mark Steilen
Story by Mark Steilen
Based on It Takes Planning, Caution to
Avoid Being It by Russell Adams
Directed by Jeff Tomsic
Starring Ed Helms, Jake Johnson,
Annabelle Wallis, Hannibal Buress,
Isla Fisher, Rashida Jones, Jon Hamm,
Leslie Bibb, Jeremy Renner
The idea of playing kids games as adults has seen a resurgence in recent years.
It’s now common to see company softball leagues share field time in the summer season with equally competitive grown-up kickball leagues.
But a group of friends from Spokane, Washington were ahead of the trend when they were profiled in a 2013 Wall Street Journal article detailing their 23 year long tradition of playing tag over a month-long period, inspiring the script from Rob McKittrick and Mark Steilen.
As a movie, Tag is surprisingly similar to the game: amusing for a while with many high-spirited moments, goes on a little too long after the fun has stopped for nearly everyone else, and is somehow more entertaining than anything this straightforward should really be.
Best friends Hoagie (Ed Helms), Sable (Hannibal Buress), Callahan (Jon Hamm), and Chilli (Jake Johnson) have been playing tag for 30 years, but all have yet to catch Jerry (Jeremy Renner), the untaggable champion of their game. As he plans to retire after his wedding, the guys work together for their last chance to make sure Jerry doesn’t go out undefeated.
Each star is incredibly comfortable in the archetype they are given, so there is no stretch for the audience to believe that Ed Helms is the overly emotional and attached guy, or that the continuously deadpan Hannibal Buress is simply going along with the whole thing because there is nothing else to do. He and Jon Hamm easily deliver the two strongest performances on the team, but only because Renner’s highly competitive fitness/martial arts guru character is in a class all his own.
Jerry is what would happen if Jason Bourne played kid’s games and had a mean girl streak.
The entire cast is having a great deal of fun throughout, but he seems to be most enjoying the ride. Whenever the film switches to slo-mo so that he can dissect his opponents actions via internal monologue and respond in kind, it feels like the movie itself is smirking at you. Or it could just be Jerry deciding for the 100th time that mentally and physically messing with his friends is much better than actually engaging with them, like when he invites Chilli and Callahan’s old flame (Rashida Jones) just to cause conflict at the rehearsal dinner.
With all of the genuinely idiotic yet hilarious moments in the movie, it’s never completely coherent.
We simply jump from funny moment to funny moment without much tying it all together except for a few questions from the Wall Street Journal reporter (Annabelle Wallis) every so often, and the manic drive of a truly gifted Isla Fisher as Hoagie’s wife who is possibly the most competitive of them all. The saving grace is that the funny moments are plentiful, and tied close enough together that the flimsy frame propping up a touching real life story is less noticeable in its flaws.
The mantra of the movie is “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing”. Is it that awful to grow up a little bit, especially when playing a game with the same rules as children could have real life consequences such as ruining someone’s wedding? Tag wavers on whether it’s a full endorsement or knows how completely insane this premise is.
But if you need to indulge your inner man-boy, Tag will certainly put you in the mood to wrestle with that question.