Directed by: Jeff Tomsic
Premise: Inspired by a true story. A group of middle aged men have been playing an annual game of tag since they were kids. When the reigning champion (Jeremy Renner) announces he is getting married and retiring from the game, the other guys work together to tag him.
What Works: In the past few years the comedy genre, and American culture in general, has embraced protracted adolescence in which the immaturity of youth extends into adulthood. This is showcased in movies like Old School and Neighbors, and Ted which mostly poke fun at the idea of middle aged men getting into drunken shenanigans. Tag has a slightly different approach. It is superficially of a piece with these other movies but there is something more to this film. Where these other pictures were about men being stupid and irresponsible, Tag is about friendships and maintaining those friendships over the course of time. The movie succeeds on two fronts. It’s partly a success because of the action scenes. The chases have a lot of stunts and in places Tag plays like a parody of Hollywood action movies. The men go to outrageous lengths to avoid being “it” resulting in a lot of physical comedy. But just as important to Tag’s success is its good heartedness. The group of friends, played by Ed Helms, Jon Hamm, Hannibal Buress, Jake Johnson and Jeremy Renner have an authentic feel in the way they relate to each other and we can see their childhood identities come alive when they interact. Instead of being obnoxious or pathetic, the men of Tag are generally likable and the movie has a sweetness at the center of it. This is about men holding onto their friendships through friendly competition and the game takes on additional meaning. The filmmakers show good judgement in balancing the comedy with the drama. The movie never lays on the sentimentality too thick and in general it is earnest and fun to watch. As funny as the core cast of men can be they are all upstaged by Isla Fisher who plays the wife of Ed Helms’ character. Fisher is a vicious and vulgar comic storm and she’s frequently the funniest character in the movie.
What Doesn’t: Tag stretches the “based on a true story” marketing claim to its limit. The movie is inspired by a group of men who did indeed play an ongoing game of tag for decades and as in the film they were profiled in the Wall Street Journal but that’s about as far as this film follows the facts. The fictional scenario that the filmmakers have come up with is a fine story unto itself but it misses the quirkiness of the factual story in order to make something closer to a mainstream Hollywood comedy. That’s most obvious as the movie gets to its ending and uses a cancer diagnosis to juice up the drama instead of going for something more nuanced. Tag is consistently funny but the tone shifts in places and the humor is occasionally cruel. There are a few comic bits that, for some viewers, will cross a line. In some other places the characters resort to homophobic insults. The filmmakers have the good sense to be self-aware about that and to point out the homophobia and ridicule the masculine posturing. But there is no getting around the fact that Tag resorts to homophobia in search of a few jokes.
Bottom Line: Tag is an enjoyable comedy. Despite a few comic missteps it is light and funny while possessing something substantive and authentic about male relationships. It’s also one of the best comedies Hollywood has produced in some time.
Episode: #704 (June 24, 2018)