It’s been an oddly good year for R-rated comedies featuring middle-aged all-star casts acting like children. Game Night is the best so far, and Blockers won me over to a certain degree. Now we have Tag, a goofball romp based on a Wall Street Journal article from 2013 about a group of childhood friends who keep themselves in each others’ lives by participating in a nationwide game of Tag for one month every year. The actual fellowship of nine is shown in home video format before the credit roll, though for the purposes of this project, we’ve whittled the group down to five core buddies.
Let me just say upfront that this movie is stupid. It’s stupid, silly, and utterly nonsensical. But damn if it wasn’t funny throughout! Sometimes even the most asinine of concepts can work if you have the right people behind them.
The first of those “right people” is Ed Helms, who opens the film by interviewing for a janitorial position at a major corporation, even though his interviewer (Lil Rel Howery from Get Out) points out that he’s a successful practicing veterinarian. Why the hell would this man, Hogan “Hoagie” Malloy, want to be a janitor?
The answer is revealed fairly quickly as Hoagie, in disguise, interrupts a conference room interview between the company CEO Bob Callahan (Jon Hamm) and WSJ reporter Rebecca Crosby (Annabelle Wallis). When Bob realizes it’s Hoagie posing as a janitor, we get the first of many elaborately goofy action sequences, resulting in Bob getting tagged. He is now “it,” and the game is on. Every May, the friends get together to play this game, going to extreme lengths to land a tag. Hoagie informs Bob that their friend Jerry Pierce (Jeremy Renner, performing with an almost unnoticeable CGI arm after getting injured) is getting married, and has announced his retirement from the game. All their lives, Jerry was the fastest, and as such, has never been tagged. It is Hoagie’s mission to get Jerry this one last time. Together, he and Bob recruit the rest of their gang, Randy “Chilli” Cilliano (Jake Johnson) and Kevin Sable (Hannibal Buress), with Crosby in tow for the sake of the story (both the movie plot and her piece on Bob for the Journal) and Hoagie’s super-competitive wife Anna, played by Isla Fisher in her most madcap role since Wedding Crashers.
Despite the hijinks of the first tagging, the rest of the game is fairly casual among the four going after Jerry. They take turns being “it,” as only the “it” man can legally tag another. In a much more logical departure from films like Hotel Artemis, not only does this game have rules, but they evolve, with unanimously agreed upon amendments that have been kept in a hand-written notebook since the late 1980s. And most importantly, they’re explicitly stated: no tagging in a truce, no girls allowed in the actual game, no tag-backs, and of course, no direct contact with rectums, among many others.
The latest amendment concerns Jerry’s upcoming nuptials. The group was intentionally not invited to the wedding (Hoagie had to do some digging to find the announcement), ostensibly because Bridezilla Susan (Leslie Bibb) doesn’t want her dream day to be ruined. As such, all attempts to tag Jerry must take place outside of the wedding activities.
Of course, this is all part of Jerry’s scheme to avoid being tagged yet again. Knowing the boys would track him down, he has set up traps and diversions that would make the Wet Bandits have PTSD-style flashbacks, ready to comically thwart them at every turn. Also, his Jedi reflexes are coupled with slow motion quick cuts set to narration akin to Robert Downey Jr.’s turn as Sherlock Holmes.
Really, each member of the gang has a distinct – and almost mutually exclusive – personality. Hoagie is the bedrock foundation of the group, keeping the game going and therefore keeping their friendship alive. Chilli is a stoner. Bob is straight-laced and successful. Jerry is an escape artist and savant who always gets what he wants. Sable is the voice of reason, albeit in that wonderfully sardonic Hannibal Buress delivery. The closest thing we have to an audience surrogate, Sable conveys both the unease of every situation, but also its absurdity, providing a running commentary that borders on genius.
Even the women have real personalities and agency, rather than being relegated to the sidelines. Apart from Cheryl Deakins (Rashida Jones), the token “easy” girl who just happens to be a common target for Bob and Chilli, every woman has their own agenda. They’re sometimes apart from the main action, but they’re not reduced to object status. Anne, Susan, and Rebecca all have their own motivations and goals within this game, and it’s good to see them take independent roles outside of their (in two of the three cases) romantic entanglements. And even though Rashida Jones is treated as a prize to be won, she still has some fun moments and a few decent lines.
But really, the only reason this film works is because it’s this singular group of people doing this singularly stupid thing, and doing it really well. Turning a rehearsal reception into a “Hunger Games”-esque human hunt in the woods? Only these people could pull it off. You try that shit with Adam Sandler and it would be unwatchable. Try it with Melissa McCarthy and it’s just a giant fat joke. But for these exact five guys, it works. Jon Hamm has dignity, and it gets taken away. Ed Helms goes for broke and ends up broken. Jake Johnson stumbles into a little bit of a false sense of security, and his delayed reactions cost him dearly. Hannibal Buress explains why something is a bad idea, goes with it anyway, and realizes far too late that he was right to doubt the plan the whole time.
And for his part, Jeremy Renner makes for a fantastic antagonist. We were wondering where he was during Infinity War, and now we know: Hawkeye was setting some shit up and laughing the whole time.
Between several flashbacks and a twist ending that comes basically out of nowhere, the film tries to temper its five-way bromance with some emotional moments, but really, it’s just a brief respite in between the goofs. The film owns what it is, and it loses focus when it deviates into attempting to have a moral. You can’t make jokes about Nora Dunn – playing Hoagie’s mother – wanting to give Chilli a handjob and then attempt to make me get misty-eyed about a teddy bear, or take bad medical news for weeps and then buy it back with a credit roll cover of the Crash Test Dummies that we never knew we needed.
This is a textbook case of why sometimes we should just enjoy something for what it is, and not try to make it seem like anything more. Just keep the jokes coming, because again, you’ve assembled an even better team than the Avengers when it comes to sophomoric frat boy jokes. Lean into it, and let this perfect storm of stuff that should never work come together in a maelstrom of hilarity.
Join the conversation in the comments below! What film should I review next? What was your favorite childhood game? How far would you go to win? Let me know!