Tag is a movie about tag. The children’s schoolyard game. It is quite sincerely about this, and nothing else. Based on a real-life Wall Street Journal article, the film follows an annual game of tag played by a group of five grown men.
One is a wealthy businessman (Jon Hamm). One is an unemployed stoner (Jake Johnson). One is so dedicated to the game that he gets employed as a janitor just to instigate a tag (Ed Helms). One is a self-professed paranoid man who also happens to take everything that comes at him with the chill demeanor of a Hannibal Buress (Hannibal Buress).
And one is a fitness guru who has never been tagged in the 30 year history of their game (Jeremy Renner). This year, however, he’s getting married, and the other players are teaming up to finally make him “it.”
It sounds childish, because it is. And the characters in the film wear their juvenility as a badge of honor. Helm’s Hoagie wears a pleased grin as he continually explains that the game keeps them young at heart and, more importantly, keeps them together. Hamm’s Bob Callahan may wear the suit and stern face of a Fortune 500 executive, but he is quick to get in bickering matches with the constantly smoking “Chilli” Chilliano. When the tagging starts, it often devolves into slap fights, sack taps, and butt punching (which are all legal maneuvers in the game’s bylaws).
For a movie with a one-track mind about a rather banal game, Tag is brisk through and through. The comedy is turbulent, but the action is cleverly planned. Set pieces are staged in visually dynamic ways, at least relative to other comedy films, which allows for a simple game of tag to read more like a chess match.
The situations, thus, get quite comedic. The dialogue, on the other hand, is clunky. To put it bluntly, there are only four or five lines of dialogue that elicit full-on laughter. Buress has a few lines that are delivered with his perfect deadpan, but they are often too non-sequitur to function smoothly within a scene. Johnson’s persona is humorous, but it becomes overbearing over time.
As the film progresses, and the punchlines read less and less consistent, it becomes apparent that you are watching a film about grown men literally running in circles. Director Jeff Tomsic, who has directed numerous stand up specials, does a great job at dressing up the set pieces to feel more energetic than merely that. But ultimately the silliness of the premise is not as infectious to the audience as it is to the characters on screen.
Tag is a light, high concept comedy with a loose script and charismatic actors who are playfully working to hide the looseness. For what it is, it is harmless fun, and it is hard to envision this premise being any more effective in the hands of other actors and filmmakers. But it also is not the most memorable comedy experience of the year.
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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)