TAG

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Jeff Tomsic

Stars: Ed Helms, Jeremy Renner, Jon Hamm, Jack Johsoon, Hannibal Buress, Isla Fisher, Annabelle Wallis, Leslie Bibb, Rashida Jones, Brian Dennehy, Nora Dunn, Steve Berg, Thomas Middleditch.

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“You never stop playing because you grow old, you grow old because you stop playing,” remarks one of the characters in this underwhelming action comedy.

Tag delivers a positive message about the value of friendship and enjoying life. It is another of those films supposedly based on a true story that again proves that often truth is stranger than fiction. In this case, Tag is based on the true story of a group of long-time friends who, once a month, engaged in an overly aggressive version of the childhood game of Tag, which they had been playing since they were in elementary school.

The story was told in a Wall Street Journal article written by Russell Adams, which has inspired this raucous action comedy from first time feature film director Jeff Tomsic, who hails from a background in short films and television (Broad City, etc). The script has been written by Rob McKittrick (Waiting, etc), his first feature length script in nearly thirteen years, and Mark Steilen, (a television producer better known for his work on series like Mozart In The Jungle and the US version of Shameless).

The film does take some liberties with the story though, and a lot of the humour seems improvised at times. Over the end credits though we get a glimpse of the real life characters from Spokane, Washington, whose antics inspired the film.

Five friends began playing an aggressive game of tag while they were in elementary school, and every May they still play the game now, even though they are in their forties. The game though seems to have taken on a more competitive edge as the men go to extreme lengths, even though it is played to a set of quite strict rules. However, the one player they have never been able to tag in thirty years has been Jerry Pierce (played by Jeremy Renner), an ultra-competitive gamer.

But when Hoagie (Ed Helms) learns that Jerry is about to be married he senses an opportunity. He heads off on a mission to convince his friends to accompany him to their old hometown and crash the wedding and finally tag him. He rounds up his friends – Callahan, played by Jon Hamm (from Baby Driver); Sable, played by Hannibal Buress (from Neighbours); the stoner Chilli, played by Jake Johnson (from Jurassic World, etc) – with the news that Jerry is leaving the game for good and that this will be their final opportunity for tagging him. The early scenes of Hoagie rounding up the gang give the film some of its best comic moments and maintain the energy levels.

The four friends are accompanied by Rebecca Crosby (Annabelle Wallis), a Wall Street journalist who was interviewing suave businessman Callahan when she learned of the ongoing game and smelled a human-interest story. But Jerry seems to sense his friends’ every move and anticipates their attacks.

Cue lots of physical humour, some absurdly elaborate set-ups, and some spectacular stunt work. And while Tomsic maintains a hectic pace throughout, subtlety is not his strong suit. Tag is inconsistent and there are a few flat patches, and the film seems a little too long for its basic premise.

Helms has often played the man-child suffering from a case of arrested development, and he is in his comfort zone here as Hoagie, who is the main driving force behind keeping the game going largely as an excuse to keep in touch with his childhood friends and their youthful embrace of life and challenges. He brings a manic touch to his performance. Helms heads a good cast here who all seem committed to delivering on the high-energy premise. Renner gets the bulk of the physical action here in a role that seems more demanding than his work in the Avengers series. Apparently he broke his arms performing some of the stunts here. Hamm’s physical performance here is more in keeping with his recent action comedy Keeping Up With The Joneses.

The scene stealing Isla Fisher delivers an intense and over the top performance as Hoagie’s competitive wife Anna, who takes an aggressive interest in helping him in the game, and her work here is a little different from most of her other roles. Buress delivers much of the comic relief with his deadpan observations as the amiable Sable. Leslie Bibb, as Susan, Jerry’s fiancée, and Rashida Jones as former flame Cheryl, temper the testosterone with admittedly fairly thankless roles.

A number of comic action films from the 80s capitalised on the popularity of the playground game of tag, such as TAG: The Assassination Game and Gotcha!, although Tag is likely to become just as forgettable as those two. The recent Game Night was a lot more fun in exploring the concept of a game that got wildly out of hand.

★★☆

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