Directed by Jeff Tomsic.
Starring Ed Helms, Jon Hamm, Jake Johnson, Jeremy Renner, Annabelle Wallis, Hannibal Buress, Isla Fisher, Rashida Jones, Leslie Bibb, Brian Dennehy, Nora Dunn, Steve Berg, Lil Rel Howery, and Thomas Middleditch.
A small group of former classmates organize an elaborate, annual game of tag that requires some to travel all over the country.
The intriguing dynamic separating Tag from just another assembly-line studio comedy to a substantial piece is the fact that, yes, it is inspired by a true story, and similar to how last year’s The Disaster Artist left those in the dark on the subject material speechless with its side-by-side comparisons during the end credits, this movie will accomplish that same dumbfounded reaction. Naturally, the filmmakers (director Jeff Tomsic making his debut feature after years of service in the comedy scene, bringing to life a script penned by various names adapted from Russell Adams’ Wall Street Journal article It Takes Planning, Caution to Avoid Being It) have altered some of the details; the characters are composites to squash down ten players into five and the reporter following these clowns around for the story has been changed from male to female (played here by Annabelle Wallis), but the tags are mostly reenactments of actual events. Yes, someone was actually tagged at their father’s funeral.
Admittedly, that sounds crass, but after doing some research on the facts of this bizarre and arguably immature behavior, a real-life counterpart stated that the act was something his father would have found humorous. To be fair, that scene didn’t really cross the line into offensive territory for me either, but yeah… Tag goes places that it absolutely shouldn’t. Some of the creative decisions are made all the more baffling after learning that a tag that took place during a friend’s wife’s chemotherapy session was removed altogether; I would have rather watched that than demented mischief regarding miscarriages.
There’s also the impression that the film version is going out of its way to render some of these characters as unlikable and downright detestable as humanly possible. Don’t get me wrong, watching Ed Helms go to extreme lengths such as earning a job at the corporate headquarters his childhood friend works at just to infiltrate an important meeting and place a tag on him is hilarious to watch unfold, but also frighteningly socially unacceptable behavior knowing this is a true story. Again, that’s not even the worst of it; the last 25 minutes of this movie are ugly and don’t necessarily hit its intended emotional beats. However, something tells me that this story is not a wholly accurate representation of who these people really are and why they continue to play the game after nearly three decades. For instance, if you read the actual rules to the game which are readily available online, it clearly states that the friends are basically not allowed to let the game spiral out of control and inflict harm on one another. However, inappropriate settings are still fair game
Sure, even in real life these people play the game at the most inopportune times, but the movie is taking that already disturbing behavior and exaggerating it to the point where the line between comedy and simply being mentally ill is blurred. Then again, I suppose it’s not too surprising considering that Hannibal Buress’s character struggles with depression not taken seriously; regardless, he’s easily the funniest thing about the movie and knocks out quip after quip like he’s the human Eeyore. No matter how crude the shenanigans get, there’s usually a cut to him saying something ridiculous that elicits laughter subsequently making the rest of the experience more tolerable.
Also, for as many offputting directions the plot takes, Tag still finds ways to strike the funny bone. Why a successful businessman (Jon Hamm) is still playing the game after all these years certainly confounds me, and I’m not sure what is there to find endearing about a pothead (Jake Johnson) ecstatic that his former crush is now a widow, but there is a warped charm to hanging out with these individuals. Their goal is, of course, absolutely ludicrous; they want to band together for one last season (as adults they only play the game during the month of May) in order to finally place a tag on the decades-long elusive Jerry (Jeremy Renner) as he is about to tie the knot and settle down, bowing out of the tradition.
The direction plays the tag attempts as essentially action sequences (often set to a soundtrack of fitting classic rock music ranging from Danzig to Ozzy Osbourne), stylistically showcasing slow-motion maneuvers where characters amusingly narrate their thought process. This is one of the best aspects of the movie, especially whenever we get a glimpse of Jerry’s cockiness and detective skills that have kept him exempt from being signs. He also has the habit of taking the hijinks too far, which again comes back around to the issues within the third act.
The movie also has a habit of just forgetting that the reporter documenting this craziness exists, seemingly disappearing throughout a number of scenes. Isla Fisher doesn’t fare much better; she’s the husband to Ed Helms and motivates him with terrifying fury as she is unable to play the game herself due to the outdated made-up rules. She throws herself into the role, but it would be nice to see just one sane person here so we have someone worth cheering.
For all of the dark material that is bound to upset sensitive moviegoers, this is also wild and untamed entertainment. Some of the narrative changes aren’t for the best, and the characters should probably be more likable so that when things suddenly become dramatic we actually care, but it’s rare in this day and age when Hollywood puts out something so loony I genuinely have no idea what the hell I just watched. Tag is childish madness that needs to be seen to be believed. So many moments feel as if they were brainstormed by hack writers for the latest juvenile studio comedy, but here those moments more often than not actually happened. The composites and real people behind this extended game of tag likely need psychological therapy.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com