Film Review – Tag
The idea seems preposterous: a group of friends, all grown men, have been playing the same game of tag for thirty years. From the school yard, through college, jobs, marriages, and into middle age, they each converge one month out of the year to see who will be “It” by month’s end. But it really did happen, between a group of ten friends out of Spokane, Washington, who started playing tag in the 1980s and have continued to do so until the present day. What started out as a simple game of running away from each other turned into elaborate, covert ops – with disguises and intricate planning. The group even came up with a legal document each person had to sign that laid out the rules. Needless to say: these guys took the game seriously.
Tag (2018) – directed by Jeff Tomsic and co-written by Rob McKittrick and Mark Steilen – isn’t a direct adaptation of the true story. The group is boiled down to five friends: Hoagie (Ed Helms), Bob (Jon Hamm), Chilli (Jake Johnson), Sable (Hannibal Buress), and Jerry (Jeremy Renner). Jerry turns out to be the best player out of the five, who is so skilled that he has never been tagged. When we’re introduced to them, we learn that Jerry is in the process of getting married and has decided to retire once he takes his vows. Coincidentally, his wedding takes place in May, which is the very month the game takes place. This gives the other four, especially Hoagie, the motivation to double their efforts and finally take Jerry down once and for all.
There was buzz around the production when it was revealed that Jeremy Renner suffered an on-set injury to both of his arms early into shooting. As a result, his arms had to be digitally replaced for the remainder of filming. Although there were moments where his arms looked a little…weird…the cover up was done well enough that anyone walking in not knowing what happened would probably never notice. It’s an interesting bit of trivia though, given that Jerry is made out to be the most athletic member of the group. He uses his expertise in parkour, gymnastics, and self-defense to do everything he can to not be touched by whomever is It. The funniest sequences are when the guys try to trap Jerry in a corner. The picture drops into extreme slow motion, as we hear the inner monologue of each character as Jerry uses his physical abilities to maneuver his way out of trouble.
Because there are five main players and the driving force of the plot is their attempts to get Jerry, there isn’t much room for character development to be fleshed out. Hoagie is married to Anna (Isla Fisher) who is so invested with the game that she gets emotional to an extreme level. Chilli has gone through some tough times: divorce, unemployment, etc., but we never see him on the verge of living on the street. Sable is a bag of anxieties, who worries about everything and even starts to wonder why he still plays the game. And Bob turned out to be a successful businessman, although we never learn what the nature of his job is, except for a small mention of it dealing with diabetes. The chemistry between the guys is there, and each performer appears to be having fun in their respective parts. It’s too bad that we don’t get an opportunity to see them in a three dimensional light. A foundation is laid out for each but none is seen through to a narrative resolution. There’s a scene where the guys learn that one of their own is going through a battle with substance abuse, but that quickly gets swept aside as the importance of the game take center stage.
If the male characters aren’t development fully enough, the female characters are handled even less so. Isla Fisher takes most of the attention, but her character is made out to simply be the loving wife who is way too committed to her husband’s game. Annabelle Wallis shows up as Rebecca, a Wall Street Journal reporter who starts out doing a piece on Bob’s business and quickly turns her focus on the game. Rebecca acts merely as a spectator and nothing else. And Rashida Jones unfortunately has to play the worst character in the film: an old classmate who gets stuck in the middle of a love triangle between two of the guys. Her story arc is useless, serving no other purpose than as a means to reveal how much the guys care about each other.
The character work is an issue, but I would be lying if I said that I didn’t find enjoyment in Tag. It may not be the funniest comedy, or the most insightful when it delves into the dynamics of male camaraderie, but there’s just enough joy going on here to satisfy our need for entertainment. The tone is often light and the pacing moves at an even, brisk clip. It may not be the best movie going experience, but it’s certainly not the worst.