Based on a True Story. We’re Not Kidding.
Whether you know it as tiggy, chasey or tag, chances are you’ve played it. Yes, I’m talking about that playground game that involves running around the yard like a headless chook, trying to escape the person who’s ‘it’ before they tag/ touch you. For a group of men, however, tag is more than just a silly pastime, the grade-school activity now a way of life. Based on a rather short yet absurd Wall Street Journal article from 2013 written by Russell Adams, about a bunch of guys who’ve spent the last 23 years playing an elaborate game of chasey, Tag feels like the ultimate man-child movie, bar missing Mr. Infantile himself, Will Ferrell, who clearly must’ve been busy during shooting.
In real-life, the ‘Tag Brothers’ are ten white dudes (who’ve been diversified here) from Spokane, Washington, whose game runs for one month every year (with no geographic restrictions), the participants including a high-school teacher, a tech-company manager, a priest and even a lawyer, the buddies going so far as to draft a ‘Tag Participation Agreement’ which outlines the rules of their involved game. If anything, some end-credits footage of the real men in action suggests that a ‘Tag Brothers’ documentary could’ve made for an equally entertaining feature.
Helmed by veteran stand-up director Jeff Tomsic, Tag follows Hogan ‘Hoagie’ Malloy (Ed Helms), a successful veterinarian and the last guy who was tagged at the close of the former season (which, in the film, takes place every May). When the movie opens it’s May again, and Hoagie’s still ‘it,’ which makes it his duty to tag one of his four childhood pals — business executive Bob Callahan (Jon Hamm), divorced, unemployed stoner Randy ‘Chilli’ Cilliano (Jake Johnson), the laid back Kevin Sable (Hannibal Buress), and the untaggable fitness professional Jerry Pierce (Jeremy Renner) — a task that’s easier said than done, seeing as work, marriages and families have scattered the old friends across the States.
Hoagie’s first stop is to ‘literally’ trap Callahan at his New York insurance office, Hoagie infiltrating the workplace by taking a job as a janitor. Disguised as a cleaner, Hoagie hijacks Bob in a conference room, where he’s being interviewed by Rebecca Crosby (Annabelle Wallis), a reporter for the Wall Street Journal (a substitute for Russell Adams) on the topic of diabetes, Rebecca acting as an audience surrogate. Gobsmacked by the outrageousness of the situation, Rebecca ditches her existing assignment to follow the real story, a no-holds-barred game of tag that’s been running since first grade. The trio’s next destination introduces another female tag-along, Anna (Isla Fisher), Hoagie’s overzealous wife, who turns out to be even more competitive than the guys — although a ‘no girls’ policy established eons ago (in their list of guidelines) keeps her out of the official tournament. With that said, Anna still plays an integral part in the game, the fiery pixy trapping the next victim, the scruffy Chilli, so that Callahan can snag him with ease. Rounding out the group is Sable, who’s tagged mid-way through an amusing therapy session.
It turns out that this year is a very special one, mainly because Jerry, who’s never been tagged, is getting married in their hometown on the very last day of May, his bride-to-be Susan Rollins (Leslie Bibb) determined to have a May wedding to keep to her family’s tradition, this window giving the foursome a chance at finally tagging Jerry before they retire the game, Hoagie convinced that this season will be their last. What’s more, the undefeated Jerry hasn’t even bothered to send his buds an invite, as the groom-to-be knows that they’re coming to get him before he ties the knot.
Working from a script by Mark Steilen, The Settlement (1999), and Rob McKittrick, Waiting… (2005), director Tomsic has a lot of fun with this crazy premise, turning this children’s activity into an all out Battle Royale, with the middle-aged pranksters disguising themselves as old ladies, hiding in bushes and infiltrating funerals to attack their prey. Moreover, filmmakers use speed ramping to transform Renner’s character into an un-catchable Terminator/ Jason Bourne-type figure who’s one step ahead of his competitors, Jerry doing everything he can to maintain his unbreakable streak — I’m talking deadly booby traps, wild stunts and paid decoys. Heck, at one point, Hoagie even declares that the guy could very well be the greatest tag player of all time. Although it’s not exactly a ‘fair’ fight (it’s four against one), this gang-up works to reinforce some of the movie’s themes, which come to light during a gushy third act revelation that halts a bit of the fun, this development reinforcing ideas of long lasting friendships and staying in touch, even if it saps the joy out of what should’ve been one helluva a madcap finale!
While Tomsic does a lot right in his feature-length debut, more could’ve been done with the narrative overall, namely with Jerry’s highly-strung fiancée (who threatens to turn into bridezilla if the guys ruin her special day), as well as the contest itself: I understand that the men are playing to defend their egos, but why go through all that trouble if the victors don’t get a prize at the end? Then there’s the addition of an old high-school flame, Cheryl Deakins (Rashida Jones), who’s still very much the third point of a love triangle with Chilli and Callahan, this saucy story-thread amounting to sweet bugger all.
Reminiscent of the ensemble comedies from the eighties, there’s solid chemistry between the leads, regardless of the large discrepancy in their ages. Ed Helms grounds the picture as Hoagie, the closest thing we get to a responsible grownup, the 44-year-old giving proceedings a Hangover (1999) type vibe, whilst Jake Johnson, Let’s Be Cops (2014), fits the part of the jobless slacker to a tee, despite the fact that we’re constantly being reminded of his pot addiction (there’s rarely a scene where he isn’t in possession of a joint or a bong). Elsewhere Hannibal Buress, Daddy’s Home (2015), gets a ton of laughs with his dry observations as the token black guy, whereas Jon Hamm, Baby Driver (2017), feels a smidge wasted as alpha male Bob Callahan.
Just like Jason Statham in 2015’s Spy, Jeremy Renner, The Avengers (2012), is great as the untouchable ‘psychopath’ (as Sable calls him) Jerry, who does whatever it takes to protect his body, going to extreme lengths to avoid hearing the dreaded words ‘you’re it.’ The real MVP, though, is the always-fantastic Isla Fisher, Wedding Crashers (2005), who plays Hoagie’s feisty companion Anna, a go-getting ginger so intense, it’s probably for the best that she’s not allowed to partake in the shenanigans. Lastly, look out for ex SNL star Nora Dunn who portrays Hoagie’s flirtatious mother, Linda (who’s got a borderline creepy crush on Chilli), as well as Steve Berg, Win It All (2017), who plays Lou Seibert, a bartender that’s always wanted ‘in’ on the commando-style capers.
At the end of the day, Tag isn’t going to win any awards, nor is it going to set the box-office alight, but this mindless slapstick is still worth catching, the film evading taps (at least for an hour or so) thanks to a lively cast, playful energy and a winning ’90s soundtrack, which features the likes of Ice-T’s ‘Colors,’ Beastie Boys’ ‘Shake Your Rump’ and Crash Test Dummies’ ‘Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm,’ the latter performed by a very game cast during the closing scroll. Now excuse me while I go round up my old chasey crew!
3 / 5 – Good
Reviewed by Mr. Movie