For one month every year, five highly competitive friends hit the ground running in a no-holds-barred game of tag they’ve been playing since the first grade. Based on a true story that was reported in a 2013 article in the Wall Street Journal, “Tag” has the most basic of premises — and it’s something that works in the film’s favor. The result is a rambunctious descent into the gleeful madness of how far these guys will go to be the last man standing.
The now grown group of childhood friends includes successful veterinarian Hogan (Ed Helms), slick-talking executive Bob (Jon Hamm), Sable (Hannibal Buress, an asset with his amusing deadpan line delivery), stoner Chilli (Jake Johnson), and the legendary fitness trainer Jerry (Jeremy Renner), the only one of the gang who has never, ever been tagged. With Jerry’s upcoming marriage and retirement from the game looming, Hogan rounds up the fellas for one epic last game to see who can win bragging rights by finally making the undefeated man “It.”
It sounds ridiculous and it is, but the film portrays and exploits the male competitive streak in hilarious fashion. These guys will stop at nothing to get the upper hand on each other. They wear costumes, hide behind cars, even enlist the help of doppelgangers to throw each other off the trail. The jokes are simple yet inspired, with a good mix of pratfalls and slapstick (yes, and they’re actually funny here) and more meaningful gags about each man’s flaws and how it’s in their nature to act on them.
The extent to which these grown men will go to be victors at a 30 year old game of tag can get silly, but that’s where the very best belly laughs originate. One of the best action bits is early in the story when Hogan and Bob corner Chilli and he mounts his escape, Indiana Jones style. It doesn’t go well.
These guys are believable as longtime friends and the actors play exceptionally well off each other. Their poker-faced banter never feels insincere nor forced, and these are people you want to hang out with. This is a bro movie through and through, with women (and their very thinly written characters) taking the back seat. The only female that holds her own (and nearly steals the show) is Isla Fisher as Hogan’s uber-intense wife Anna, in what reminds me of an over-the-top homage to Fisher’s “Wedding Crashers” character.
The film becomes repetitive when it rehashes a no-nonsense voiceover (it sails through with flying colors the first time but feels stale but its third overuse), and a few too many jokes are in very poor taste (so much so that the characters themselves reference the fact). Some of the more unpleasant barbs take aim at tragedy (the sudden death of a husband, a potential miscarriage) or are downright gross (including a scene involving a childhood stuffed bear). All of these “jokes” left me with an unshakeable icky feeling. Despite these ill-advised quips, the movie still manages to bring the laughs until the end.
“Tag” is an enjoyable ode to lifelong relationships, a comedy with heart, and one that instills the value of true friendship and reminds us that we’re never too old to play. It’s not destined to become a classic but when it comes to easygoing summertime entertainment, it nearly reaches mindless, fun perfection.