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Just keep it simple, stupid…
I’ll be the first to admit that Tag felt like a very weak excuse for a movie in the lead up to its release; HOWEVER it’s actually anything but. Thanks to some strong casting, exceptionally self-aware and structured writing this goofy story actually generates quite a few laughs with really so very little to work with.
For one month every year, five highly competitive friends hit the ground running in a no-holds-barred game of tag they’ve been playing for decades; risking their necks, their jobs and their relationships to take each other down with the battle cry “You’re It!” This year, the game coincides with the wedding of their only undefeated player, which should finally make him an easy target. However, he knows they’re coming…and he’s ready. Based on a true story, Tag shows how far some guys will go to be the last man standing.
This film actually over achieves because it has no business being this efficient for your prototypical Hollywood comedy and it manages to make lemonade over and over again by keeping the ingredients to the absolute bare essentials.
It’s actually no surprise that director Jeff Tomsic is a veteran of stand-up specials where you just have a man and a microphone because this film really does echo that kind of setup. It simply wouldn’t have worked as well as it did if the film had tried to give us too much exposition or set up, it rather just got into the joke as quickly as it possibly could. While I’ll be the first to admit that a game of tag between a bunch of grown men is a pretty thin premise to build a movie on, it works because it knowingly leans into how dumb it actually is and allows us to enjoy the heart and camaraderie between all of these friends that they’ve shared over the years.
Moments that are tacky or even a little gross for shock value never once get forced on us as audience as this entire experience (as silly as it is) actually has an incredible amount of heart inside it all. Between the slow motion action sequences where they all try and tag each other that are simply hilarious as the inner monologue going inside their heads trying to extend this never ending game from their youth generates some real comedy and the actual tender moments as these friends reconnect and keep each other in their lives generates an honest sense of joie de vivre that gets too lost in modern life. Sure there are a few setups and comedic bits that are overly Hollywood and mildly forced, they don’t take away from the core message; a quote that they keep repeating during the film from George Bernard Shaw; “You don’t stop playing because you get old, you get old because you stop playing”.
Screenwriters Rob McKittrick and Mark Steilen certain had to pull a lot out of thin air since this really was only based on a Wall Street Journal article, but they kept the core message intact, didn’t clutter the narrative with exposition and allowed the ensemble to develop characters that really had to be understood without saying all that much.
Sure, we get some key back story that gets told in flashbacks but credit has to go where credit is due as Ed Helms actually doesn’t melt into the background of this comedic ensemble like he usually does but rather leads his motley crew of friends on this adventure to finally win and “Tag” their friend Jerry. His character Hoagie really is the heart of it all, while Jake Johnson’s wayward stoner Randy thrives in the moment of being back with his friends and Jon Hamm’s Callahan comes to the realization that he doesn’t always have to be right, especially with his friends. Jeremy Renner as the cocky and undefeated Jerry plays opposite to the other guys with aplomb and his character’s emotional awakening at the end of it all makes everything that goes on all the more satisfying.
The criminally underrated Isla Fisher, Rashida Jones and Leslie Bibb represent for the ladies in a fantastic way showing how the girls can understand and except this kind of fun as well, and while Annabelle Wallis character was a little underused, she was still vital and needed to be there if only as a prop to move the story about her writing a story about all this along.
Picture and sound quality on the Blu-Ray are solid as expected and the special features include a look at the real life brothers who inspired the movie, chronicalling their visit to the set and the ongoing story of the game that’s lasted nearly thirty years, some deleted scenes and a gag reel.
If you go into Tag looking for over the top, gross and stupid moments then you’re actually going to be a little disappointed because this is one of those rare comedies where every piece of buffoonery that we see on screen actually has purpose and heart. At its core, Tag is about the importance of friendship and the need to keep a little bit of joy in our adult lives where it’s far too easy to let that incredibly important emotion fall by the way side.