By Ben Gregory
The common complaint of recent moviegoers is that “Hollywood has run out of ideas”, and while this statement holds plenty of truth to it, no current cinematic trend emphasizes this more than the increase in game adaptations. For some reason, the creative types working today seem to think that general audiences want to see someone else play or reenact a beloved game rather than just play the game themselves. Between the spontaneous onslaught of video game adaptations and the occasional board game put to screen, Hollywood’s translation of the interactivity of playing a game to watching that same game play out on screen has been very hit or miss over the years, often more miss than hit. Now, what happens when a game that can be simply played with any number of people, without any need for dice, a board, a screen or a controller, gets adapted to the big screen? Well, then you get Tag.
Tag is a new comedy starring an all-star cast of Ed Helms, Jon Hamm, Hannibal Buress, Jeremy Renner, and Jake Johnson. The film follows the aforementioned male-centric cast as they continue a 30-year-old tradition of spending one month out of the year to play the titular game, tag. The film’s premise sounds harmless enough, leaving plenty of potential room for humorous chase sequences, a feel-good story about growing up, and sentimental moments focusing on the lifelong friendships that the main characters have shared. While Tag does attempt to full the promise of all of these aforementioned elements, it ultimately and unfortunately falls short of all of them, as well.
Before I continue, I’d like to point out that the actual real-life source material for Tag is much more fascinating than the movie itself. In 2013, a group of lifelong friends from Spokane, Washington gained national attention after being showcased in The Wall Street Journal for playing a month-long game of tag every year for almost 30 years. The film’s marketing did repeatedly mention how it was “based on a true story”, going as far as playing candid video of the real-life players and the lengths to which they tricked each other as the film’s end credits role. Adding to this, in the middle of the credits, newly shot footage of the friend group is shown as they happily pose together in a large group. Seeing the subjects of the movie, I couldn’t help but notice how much older they actually were. Some of them looked like they were in or around their early 60s, which is a far cry from the actual ages of their onscreen counterparts. Yet, this is but a small criticism in the grand scheme of Tag, but still something I thought was worth noting.
Keeping in mind that Tag is an R-rated comedy, one can expect plenty of raunchy humor and phallic jokes, which does hammer in how juvenile the characters we follow actually are. As many are well aware, humor is subjective. What may seem hysterical to one person, may only get a slight chuckle from another. Tag definitely has its fair share of funny moments, especially with Hannibal Buress on screen, but I feel that the majority of the film’s jokes fall flat. There aren’t any memorable lines or jokes that are going to stick with you as much as one would hope.
In all honesty, the moments where Tag shines the most is when its characters are actually playing tag. Since the movie’s central conflict is that of the group trying their absolute hardest to tag Jeremy Renner’s character, who has never been tagged before, the film finds fun ways to show his expertise at the game, slowing time around him whenever there seems to be a potential threat. These moments reminded me heavily of 2009’s Sherlock Holmes and the scenes in which that film’s titular character would mentally analyze every aspect of a fight in slowed-down time to show the audience how he plans to take out his pursuer and then continue to execute the aforementioned plan of attack. These moments are easily the most memorable in Tag, a movie that unfortunately isn’t all that memorable overall. Even as I write this review, I struggle to remember most other parts of the movie. Tag tries its hardest to squeeze as much emotion out of its cast as it can when it needs to, but this effort comes out as either awkward or forced as the credits begin to roll. With its clunky use of a love interest in Rashida Jones’ brief onscreen presence and the occasionally grating over-the-top comedy delivered by Isla Fisher’s character, the female supporting cast of the film is mostly thrown off to the wayside in favor of focusing on the brotherly bond between the five main characters, which is an understandable focus for the film to maintain if it worked.
Overall, while I may have bagged on the movie quite a bit, Tag was a very serviceable comedy. It’s nothing hysterical or that terrible, but it did leave me with a mild shrug. All in all, it felt as if they were ultimately reaching for ideas to fill out its runtime, because honestly, how much mileage could someone get out of a movie about a simple playground game.