If the idea of a film about a group of guys who drop everything, their careers, their families, their whole lives, and play an obsessive game of tag for one month, every year, sounds like a lame-brained idea for a comedy – we’re talking the whole film – then you may be right; except for one thing. Tag is inspired by a true story.
In the real world, a small group of friends use tag as a way of keeping in touch with each other. Eleven months of the year is spent planning how the surprise attacks will occur, then a month is spent acting out those often less than smooth moves as they chase each other, ready to commit an unexpected tag no matter where it takes them. There’s no prize to be claimed, no money at the end of the four weeks, just the satisfaction of knowing that one in the group will end up being ‘It’ and will hold that dishonor until things start all over again the following year.
The unusual affair was brought to the world’s attention by a reporter for the Wall Street Journal. Five years ago, Russell Adams wrote an article reporting on how a group of men had played a game of Tag for 23 years. Writer Mark Stellen has taken that article and, along with co-writer Rob McKittrick, created a story loosely based on what he read. There’s a scene in the film where one of the characters is tagged at his father’s funeral while grieving. That really happened. That’s how committed these guys are.
The premise of the film is the same as the real thing. In 1983, five young school friends started chasing each other playing Tag. As Hoagie (Ed Helms) states in a voice-over, “You think you’re gonna be buddies forever.” And it’s true, most school friends really believe that. In reality, most drift apart. But not these guys. As a way of remaining friends, once high-school was over, the tightly-knit five devised the game where throughout the merry month of May, playing Tag will always bring them together again, even though each live in a different part of the country. And it’s become an obsession.
They chase each other everywhere, through shops and stores, shopping malls, parking lots, up and down apartment buildings, through other people’s apartments, breaking doors, smashing through windows, causing all kinds of disasters to other people’s property, and yet rarely getting hurt or facing the consequences of damages done. When pothead and total waste of space, Randy (Jake Johnson) tries to escape the chase with Hoagie in pursuit, he crashes through a strangers’ home, smashes through their window, swings across a balcony, lands on someone else’s window a/c unit, which breaks and has him careening down, smashing onto a car, then finally to the ground. He’s a real-life Wil E Coyote; no matter how dangerous the stunt, somehow he gets up and continues to chase or be chased.
But the plot in first-time film director Jeff Tomsic’s movie thickens. One of the five, Jerry (Jeremy Renner) holds the title of having never been ‘It.’ Somehow, he’s managed to evade the touch, but that could change. Jerry is about to get married. It’s May and the hunt is on. Of course, why the character would ever make himself that vulnerable and agree to a May wedding would probably be your first question, but the writers have contrived an answer. Jerry’s fiancee, Leslie (Susan Rollins) is continuing the long-standing tradition where all the women in the family marry in May. So, regardless of her husband-to-be’s madcap game with his buddies, a May wedding it is. Once the other four knows where he’ll be, they drop everything, and just as they always do, they group together, head north, and ready for the pounce.
So that it’s not a totally dominated male cast, Hoagies’ wife, Anna (Isla Fisher) comes along for the chase, and she’s just as crazy as the guys, perhaps even crazier. “God, I wish I had my gun here,” she states prior to the outdoor wedding ceremony. “So many good birds to shoot.”
Plus, there’s the attractive Wall Street Journal reporter, Rebecca (Annabelle Wallis) in the Russell Adams role. She’s initially there to interview successful businessman Bob (Jon Hamm) at his office, but once he interrupts the meeting to suddenly take off and join his tag-obsessed buddies, sensing a potential new story, Rebecca follows, observes, reports, and even becomes part of the game. And finally, there’s Cheryl (Rashida Jones) who knew the guys back at school. She’s at the wedding, brought in by Jerry to distract the high-school friends and maybe slow them down. It’s a character and a plot-line that goes nowhere, but at the very least, among all the slapstick and often painful looking shenanigans of the boy-men around her as they continue to play their child’s game, it’s always good to see the talented Miss Jones, even if in this case she’s given nothing to do. “Is she the Yoko?” asks the WSJ reporter. “I don’t get the reference,” responds the clueless Kevin (Hannibal Buress).
The chasing and all the running around starts to grow wearisome once you realize that the film is going to do nothing more than what the title promises. At a running time of 100 minutes, you may find yourself checking your watch more often than the norm. Even though the friends sign an agreement stating that during the actual wedding, no game-playing will happen, if you’ve seen the trailer, you already know that that’s a rule soon to be broken. It’s odd that at a time when studios at critic screenings are practically ordering reviewers not give away spoilers or surprises, limiting what can be discussed, in Tag it’s something they do themselves. Perhaps the one moment in the film where you’re supposed to be wondering whether one the four friends will attempt to tag Jerry while he’s taking his vows, all suspense is gone; the marketing department showed it in the trailer.
One thing in the film’s favor. Seeing home-movie clips of the real thing with the real people at the end of the film, including a glance at The Wall Street Journal article that reported it, somehow in a strange way validates the theme. It doesn’t make the film any better, but at least it gives it perspective. These blockheads really do this.
MPAA Rating: R Length: 100 Minutes Overall Rating: 4 (out of 10)