BY BROOKE CORSO
“Tag” is based on a real-life game that has been played by real friends originally from Washington state for almost 30 years.
A lot of the shenanigans designed by the on-screen players either mirror or are paler versions compared to the lengths and strategical complexities of the different quests over the years to slap a different member of the group with the “It” tag. Just read the original 2013 article on the game by Russell Adams in the Wall Street Journal for evidence.
Jeff Tomsic’s film, adapted to the screen by Rob McKittrick and Mark Steilen, capitalizes on such joie de vivre with Jon Hamm, Hannibal Buress, Jake Johnson, Ed Helms, and Jeremy Renner as the buds who devote one month of each year to a no-holds-barred game which transcends distance, boundaries, and checking accounts to avoid carrying the “It” label for the next 11 months.
Most of the guys have prominent jobs (except Johnson’s character, Randy, who lives in stoned despair with his equally baked dad played by Brian Dennehy in a sly tip of the hat to one of the real players who is also named Brian Dennehy). When a reporter (Annabelle Wallis) for the Wall Street Journal comes to profile Callahan (Hamm) at his company, their humdrum interview is interrupted by Hoagie (Helms) who has put his veterinary career on temporary hold to apply for and obtain a janitorial position in the building just to gain access to the conference room where he tags Callahan and continues the game.
Intrigued, Rebecca (Wallis) accompanies the growing group as they head out to tag the only member who has an unblemished record: soon-to-be-wed Jerry (Jeremy Renner), who is that ultra competitive friend who always has to ruin the chill vibe for everyone and places the game on the fence between fun and work.
For one month (May in the film; February in real life), these friends can combine all their youthful fancies with adult resources toward whatever extreme situations they can brag about for the rest of the year. It is a test of accessibility and showmanship, craft and vigor and fortitude to cross the continent and slip past security just to slap someone’s chest. For a few of the men, like Randy and Sable (Hannibal Buress), who have genuine trust and abandonment issues, this is both an opportunity to reconnect with a loving, caring group and an anxiety trigger as no one can be trusted and no place is restricted. Even wives and girlfriends can be accomplices, as evidenced by Hoagie’s loyal and kick-ass wife Anna (Isla Fisher), who has been with the group since childhood but not allowed to play because girls are against the rules.
Oh, there are rules and rules and rules, both handwritten and freshly typed, stapled together in a bulging contract between the players. Amendments can be made, however, which sadly overlooks Anna’s participation until far too late in the film. It’s too bad, because she and Hoagie are the most extreme of the bunch, and her zealous commitment to the game’s concept keeps things moving where otherwise they’d all be wasted in her mother-in-law’s basement rec room in a cloud of Randy’s ever-present marijuana smoke. In one of the film’s more hilarious gags, Randy almost never loses the blunt held firmly between his lips as he jumps off fire escapes and crashes onto car hoods. The sad sack of the group who has lost a business and a marriage, he admits to a childhood sweetheart (an underused Rashida Jones, who definitely could have added to the chaos) that he can’t handle big events sober, so even as the buddies display their focus over getting Jerry, they never attend to Randy’s obvious fragility. He’s just the funny stoner friend.
Jerry is the outsider within the group, not really an active part (owing to his immaculate record of never being tagged) but the Everest which they always try to summit. He’s apparently superhuman, as Tomsic borrows Guy Ritchie’s trademark style of high-speed photography and jump sequences as seen in Snatch and Sherlock Holmes to show Jerry’s quick thinking and reflexes when surrounded or pursued. He’s never been “It,” so he never really participates in the fun, instead lying in wait throughout May and developing more and more ridiculous defensive measures, including hiring the grounds crew of a country club to dress as his clones and hide in a forest during his rehearsal dinner. Even in a mall sequence with Hoagie, Jerry seems more preening than truly exuberant.
The best parts of the film are when the gang is flying high, running and laughing like kids and scaring the wits out of each other. The in-between times are when the energy wanes, as the guys aren’t as adept with quips and comebacks as they are with disguises and bribery. It helps to have a youthful zeal for the chase and maintaining friendships despite the baggage of adulthood and the reality of criminal trespassing and potential life-threatening injury, but the group can never fully go home again.
STARRING Jeremy Renner, Ed Helms, Jake Johnson, Hannibal Buress, Jon Hamm, Isla Fisher, Annabelle Wallis
DIRECTOR Jeff Tomsic
MPAA RATING R