Film Review: Tag (USA, 2018) is a hilarious mix of action and comedy about the joy of play

When you think of a get together for a bunch of grown men, you usually think beers at the pub, or playing a round of golf, or watching a football match, so your first thought would not be playing a game of tag. Well the new movie Tag is based on the true story of a group of schoolboys who continued playing tag for over two decades and are still playing to this day.

The film story revolves around a group of five boys, the closest of friends who always played together. And yet as they grow up, they decide to keep a tradition of playing a game of tag going for nearly 30 years. There’s Callahan (Jon Hamm), Hoagie (Ed Helms), Randy ‘Chili’ Cilliano (Jake Johnson), Sable (Hannibal Buress), and Jerry (Jeremy Renner).
As adults, every year for the month of May they play tag, going to extraordinary lengths in order to trap one of their friends and make them “it”. And of course whoever is “it” at the stroke of midnight at the end of May loses, and remains “it” until they can resume play the following year. However this year may be their last, as Jerry has decided he wants to retire with a clean streak – having never been tagged. So the others hatch a plan to try and trap and tag Jerry for the first time.

Director Jeff Tomsic (from TV series such as The Detour and Idiotsitter) has crafted a film that blends a variety of cartoonish elements where some of the action sequences roll out in slow-motion. Think Guy Ritchie version of Sherlock Holmes observational analysis and breakdown of a scene, these work particularly when Jerry is calculating his moves to outwit and outsmart his opponents. These are definitely the highlight of the movie as they over-exaggerate the extent to which each of the characters go in order to try to catch their target. Much of the action and stunts for Jerry, done by Jeremy Renner himself, also look amazing. Though one stunt in particular resulted in him breaking both his arms and some CGI and costume work was used to cover up the casts.

The screenplay by Rob McKittrick and Mark Steilen takes some liberties with the original true story of course. The original group consisted of 10 taggers from the Gonzaga Prep graduates, which would be too large of an ensemble to manage. Also the names of those involved have been changed. But much of the key action plot points like the golf course golf cart chase or Hoagie dressing up as an old lady to catch Jerry unawares were methods used by the original group. This can be seen at the end of the film before the credits roll, when a footage reel shows the original taggers filming their various pranks and hijinks. And the essence and emotion of the film lies at the heart of its mantra “You don’t stop playing because you grow old …. You grow old because you stop playing”. And it’s the game and playing together that has given them a reason to continue being a part of each other’s lives for all these years.

Some of the performances work better than others, Helms is a natural comedian and his hell bent Hoagie marries perfectly with his onscreen wife Anna played by Isla Fisher. Here reprising her obsessively crazy persona from Wedding Crashers, inserting into this film as Hoagie’s partner-in-tag-crime providing assistance and intel on would-be tag victims and keeping him focused. Buress’ paranoid and over analysing Sable provides a different understated less physical comedy slant. Whilst Renner utilises his stunt prowess to great lengths here, but is also clearly having fun whilst doing so.

Then there’s the character of Rebecca (Annabelle Wallis) the Wall Street Journal reporter who is meant to be our entry into this ridiculous story and our POV for the film, she is somehow both necessary and redundant? Necessary because without a popular news outlet publishing the story nobody would have known about it. But also redundant because the film could have worked without her not being a part of it at all? Also the awkward love-triangle subplot between Chili, Callahan and their old high school flame Cheryl (Rashida Jones) felt like a waste of time and didn’t really provide proper emotional character development for either of them. And there’s an extremely cringeworthy and distasteful bit about miscarriage that should definitely have been omitted and changed for something else.

Overall the film is a hilarious mix of action and comedy that goes to show you you’re never too old to play. Even if that play involves breaking into your friend’s house or hijacking a golf cart or ensnaring your friends in a net trap in the middle of the woods.

Review Score: THREE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Running Time: 100 minutes

Tag is screening in Australian cinemas from 14 June 2018 through Roadshow Films