Do kids still play tag? In an era where video games, smartphones and streaming are at their fingertips, a game where you run around outside trying to touch someone seems not only trivial, but archaic.
A quick Google search reveals things like, “Top 10 Versions of Playing Tag” and “Why are Kids so Bad at Playing Tag?” How could someone be bad at playing tag? I guess if you’re slow or perhaps asthmatic. Watch out for those pollen counts.
The Google search also reveals multiple headlines of schools banning the game because it’s unsafe. I once collided with a friend resulting in them breaking their collarbone. I think we were playing football, but it was a freak accident.
That was 20 years ago. The only conceivable reason for me to play tag today, in my mid-30s, would be if I had children. If I was doing it with fellow adults, that would be kind of weird, right?
And yet, that’s the premise of the latest comedy, Tag. Based on a true story of a group of friends who have been playing the same game of tag for 30 years, Tag follows Hogan (Ed Helms), Bob (Jon Hamm), Chilli (Jake Johnson) and Kevin (Hannibal Buress).
The four of them reunite every May to play the game. Not only because it’s still fun, but because it gives them a chance to catch up on each other’s lives.
There’s another member of the group, Jerry (Jeremy Renner), who’s never been tagged in all the years they’ve been playing. Not once. I guess all that Avengers training finally paid off for Renner. Although not without a few injuries.
Jerry’s perfect score(?) has made Hogan desperate. Jerry is about to get married, so the gang heads to Washington to attend the wedding and finally tag Jerry while his guard is down.
The concept of Tag is great and the perfect premise for a comedy. The fact that it’s based on a true story only adds to the allure.
And the scenes involving the game are satisfying. Characters disguise themselves as janitors and old ladies and the physical comedy is consistently funny. It works because the filmmakers are parodying action movies in these scenes. Slow-motion, golf-cart chases and hand-to-hand combat are among the highlights.
But when the movie slows down, the pacing and story slow to a crawl. The characters are constantly reminding us that the game has kept them close all these years, but what we don’t get enough of that comradery. The characters are all likeable, but none of them are developed so you don’t get a sense of their great bond.
There’s a love triangle subplot involving Chilli, Bob and a character played by Rashida Jones that goes nowhere. Johnson is basically playing another version of his character on New Girl, the mid-30s guy who can’t escape his college days, and the movie attempts to mature Chilli through Jones’s character, but it doesn’t work at all. Every one of her scenes could have easily been cut from the movie which is sad because she is a great comedic actor.
There are a couple of bright spots. Helms, who usually plays the straight man, is delightfully unhinged thanks to Jerry always being one step ahead. And Isla Fisher as Hogan’s wife steals every scene she’s in. It reminded me of her breakout role in Wedding Crashers.
Renner can do the physical stuff with ease, but his attempts at comedy mostly fall flat and Buress, who is normally very funny, is underutilized.
There’s a great comedy somewhere to be found in this. They’ve got the premise and cast to pull it off, but it all feels like a missed opportunity. You don’t know any of the characters which results in themes like friendship, staying connected and reliving the glory days feeling irrelevant.
The film attempts to sprinkle in some sentimentality near the end, but by then it’s too late resulting in an awkward tonal shift.
If you want a comedy with a clever plot, well-rounded characters and likeable actors, check out Game Night instead.