Tiresome Tag a Tediously Disappointing Game of Sadistic Nonsense
To remain connected to their youth, for the entire month of May lifelong best friends Hogan “Hoagie” Malloy (Ed Helms), Bob Callahan (Jon Hamm), Kevin Sable (Hannibal Buress), Randy “Chilli” Cilliano (Jake Johnson) and Jerry Pierce (Jeremy Renner) play a game of Tag. Jerry has never been tagged. He’s never lost. He’s never been “It.” This year, the last year the gang is going play their once-a-year game, the month they’ve designated for Tag just so happens to be the month Jerry is going to get married. This means that, even with a wedding going on, all bets are off, and Hoagie, Bob, Kevin and Chilli are going to do whatever they have to in order to ensure reigning champion Jerry finally gets tagged.
Tag is based on a real gaggle of friends, nicknamed the “tag brothers,” who for one month a year play a game of Tag as if they were all still ten-year-old kids running around outside during recess. They also happen to be from my hometown of Spokane, WA, making the whole concept even more surreal. Unfortunately, director Jeff Tomsic’s (“Broad City”) comedy never embraces the absurdity of this annual game in ways that are appealingly effective, and even with an all-star cast willing to throw themselves to and fro with wild abandon nothing that happened ever registered with me. Screenwriters Mark Steilen (“Mozart in the Jungle”) and Rob McKittrick (Waiting) are far too content reveling in the more blasé and rudimentary aspects of this scenario. As such it all just sort of falls more than a wee bit flat, making this an oddly disappointing R-rated comedic misfire I kind of now wish I hadn’t taken the time to go and see.
The actors do give it their best effort, especially Helms, Hamm and Buress. Each attempts to give an actual performance, trying to find delicate shadings to their respective characters that might give them additional depth. I was also happy that the majority of the female members of the cast aren’t left high and dry with precious little to do save observe how moronic each of the respective men in their lives turns out to be every May. It’s particularly nice to see the luminously talented Isla Fisher getting to strut her stuff with such gonzo gusto, and if anything the movie could have used more of her zestful exuberance.
But unlike this year’s other two R-rated comedy knockouts Game Night and Blockers, this movie is so obsessed with its premise it forgets to craft a reason for viewers to care about any of the people playing the game. It also does nothing of value with Renner, making him this tough, stereotypical man’s man enigma who is as appealing as a pound of freshly sliced ham. The actor doesn’t get the chance to be more than a charming red herring the film doesn’t seem to have any desire whatsoever to do anything interesting with. This places a devastating black hole at the center of the feature that makes emotionally investing in the outcome pretty much impossible, and there were moments sitting there in the theatre I honestly started to wonder why I didn’t get up and leave.
That’s a little cruel. With a cast this strong I can’t say there weren’t a few chuckles to be found along the way to this story’s foregone conclusion. I admittedly liked the way the film brings all of its characters together at Jerry’s wedding (to which none of them have been invited), and there’s a moment about two-thirds of the way through where Leslie Bibb, playing the bewildered bride-to-be, takes over the picture in a way that’s honestly kind of awesome. There’s also a semi-decent subplot featuring Annabelle Wallis as a journalist writing an article about this crazy never-ending game of tag that’s maybe the most emotionally heartfelt thing in the entire picture, a few of her conversations with Hamm having an unexpected sincerity I didn’t see coming.
But the increasingly sadistic violence of the gags grows tiresome over time, and the one-dimensionality of so much of what’s happening just rubbed me the wrong way. What’s most annoying is just how much the film wastes such an extraordinary cast and an inherently funny premise and in the process does little to nothing memorable with either of them. It just doesn’t work, and in a year where smart, character-driven ensemble R-rated comedies have made something of a comeback, Tag is an unfunny game of tedious nonsense I personally think isn’t worth playing.
Film Rating: 1½ (out of 4)