Sometime in the 1980s, a group of friends started a game of tag. Ever since then, every year during the month of May, they pick up the game where it left off, even though it’s now more than 30 years later! As the years go by, the game becomes more intense with the guys taking increasingly more extreme measures to tag one another and keep the game going, from elaborate disguises to showing up at each other’s homes and work.
The group consists of orthodontist Hoagie (Ed Helms) and his wife Anna (Isla Fisher) – though she’s not technically part of the game as one of their rules is no girls allowed, Fortune 800 business owner Bob (Jon Hamm), stoner Chilli (Jake Johnson), and nerdy Sable (Hannibal Buress). When they discover the 5th member of their game – the never-been-tagged fitness guru Jerry (Jeremy Renner) – is getting married, they all plot together to crash the wedding to get the tag. They’re joined by a journalist of the Washington Post (Annabelle Wallis) who’s writing a story about their game and get help from local bartender Lou (Steve Berg) who desperately wants to join the game.
Their adventure to try tagging Jerry leads to a plethora of antics taking them through a mall, across a golf course, through an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, and even includes breaking and entering and machine-gun-punching each other in the butt!
Tag is what happens when a true life story happens to have enough comedic potential to be a movie. It’s got such a strong, easily imagined high concept premise that it almost can’t fail. Almost. The parts of the movie you’d immediately imagine when hearing that adults are still playing the same game of tag work great. The slapstick physical comedy is on point with constantly evolving antics and interesting ways of showing their antics; including some great slow-mo camera work from cinematographer Larry Blanford (nearly every movie in the X-men franchise plus a plethora of other big action flicks).
Where the movie falls apart is when it stops being a funny concept that could easily be a Funny or Die video, and starts trying to be an actual movie. Between the awfully lame jokes, a storyline that turns very dark (and then has to try redeeming itself), and drawing in unnecessary plot elements in a vain attempt to flesh the story out, the script by writers Mark Steilen (Mozart In The Jungle, Will, and Shameless) and Rob McKittrick (Waiting… and Still Waiting..) simply doesn’t work.
Director Jeff Tomsic tries to pull it all together in his feature directorial debut, but what we’re left with in the end is a very amusing story with hilarious slapstick stitched together with sub-par writing and uneven acting.
Ed Helms, Jon Hamm and Jake Johnsons play their roles well and are the heart and soul of this film. Their performances carry everything. Hannibal Buress is completely useless as the “token black friend” Sable. Since I’ve yet to see Buress’ other movies, I’m honestly not sure if he just phoned it in or if he’s just a bad actor. Isla Fisher, who I normally enjoy, is so over-the-top her performance stops being funny and falls into the realm of just plain annoying. Secondary roles by secondary actors feel, well, secondary.
Tag has enough laughs and familiar faces to feel like a good time, and keeps you guessing just how big and elaborate this game of tag will become – which is the only thing that will keep butts in the seats. Unfortunately, that means sitting through a lot of unfunny and poorly executed story in between the good stuff.