Release: Friday, June 15, 2018
Written by: Rob McKittrick; Mark Steilen
Directed by: Jeff Tomsic
Tag isn’t what you would call a life-changing adventure chockfull of substance but what there is of substance is actually a teeny bit life-enhancing. Or is that just my buzz kicking in? A bromantic occasion in the vein of The Hangover, yet somehow even less “culturally, aesthetically and/or historically significant,” this is the kind of entertainment that goes down GREAT with buttered popcorn (or even unbuttered . . . if you’re weird).
Bizarrely, this is also a true story. Producer Jeff Tomsic’s directorial début is inspired by a 2013 Wall Street Journal article that followed a group of Gonzaga Prep School alums who were able to keep the spirit of their childhood alive well after the turning of the tassels. The secret to everlasting youth? It isn’t a fountain, but rather a game of “tag” you perpetuate for decades — literally decades. And to this day the spirit of that competition is still alive and well.
Despite cinematic shorthand, which pares the group of 10 real-life, true-blue “tag” enthusiasts down to a more manageable five, Tag still comes up short when it comes to providing character development or meaningful redemptive arcs. No one in the cast is a direct representation of any of the real taggers, with names changed and personalities presumably amalgamated (with Jake Johnson’s stoner-dude Randy ‘Chilli’ Cilliano reportedly being the closest thing to a genuine article). Still, with a film so-named, the profound depths of humanity aren’t what we are paying to see. Like The Hangover, we’re here to see how far a group of teens in adult clothes and adult jobs (for the most part) will go to sanctify the male bond.
Somewhat counterintuitively, Tag‘s greatest asset is its impressive, star-studded cast. The characters aren’t defined by anything more than the familiar if winning personalities the actors are already bringing in, but there is a camaraderie here that cannot be denied. Maybe that isn’t much of a surprise, given the following:
- Ed Helms as “Hoagie,” the heart-and-soul of the “Tag brothers;”
- Jon Hamm as Bob, the most professionally distinguished one (yes that tag really happened!);
- Hannibal Buress as Sable (a.k.a. he who needs therapy because the game is now bordering on all-out war);
- Jake Johnson, we already covered;
- action star Jeremy Renner (more on him later);
- Isla Fisher, who plays wife to Helms and who is positively more into this than any of the guys;
- Leslie Bibb (Renner’s bride-to-be);
- and Rashida Jones as Cheryl Deakins, the girl who matured well beyond Chilli and friends as early as high school.
Director Jeff Tomsic guides us through the story at a brisk and occasionally haphazard pace as the four others attempt to finally tag Renner’s seemingly untouchable Jerry. Helms may be the emotional core of the group, the guy who really gets the meaning of what the game represents, but it is the ever-evasive Jerry who acts as the fulcrum around which all the madness pivots. And then his wife, played by an initially grating Leslie Bibb, eventually becomes an altogether exciting revelation.
The action is thoughtfully-staged and often shot from the points of view of the actors. You’ll find that amusing fish-eye lens often invoked to give rise to a sense of panic as the inevitable closes in behind them. The famous cast goes a long way in distracting from the fact that there isn’t really much going on beyond the elaborate-verging-on-distasteful attempts of each member to rid themselves of the burden of shame of being “it.” Believe it or not, Tomsic chose to omit a few of the more outrageous truths. There is a crazier version that could have been told. Instead, he sublimates what might have been really unpalatable into a classically Hollywood, too-pat conclusion that finds the group in a reflective state once things have become a bit “too real.”
Recommendation: Tag is the kind of no-frills entertainment that also offers the perfect tonic for the blockbuster hangover. It is, in every sense, exactly the movie you might expect it to be. For better as well as for worse.
Running Time: 100 mins.
Quoted: “I think your dad really would have wanted you to be . . . it.”
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