Heartfelt but Poorly Managed Comedy
You know you’ve just watched a bad movie when the post-credits video montage of the real characters who inspired the story is the best part of the entire ordeal. That’s exactly the case with Tag, a film inspired by the real-life story of a group of middle-aged men who’ve been playing an elaborate game of tag since their childhood in the early 80s.
A quick Google search will turn up numerous interviews, snippets, and videos that feature the exhaustive depths these guys are willing to go to in order to pass the “you’re it” declaration onto another. It is actually quite funny stuff. The movie, not so much.
We join the hijinks as veterinarian Hoagie (Ed Helms) has just begun his ruse to tag company executive Bob (Jon Hamm) by applying for a janitor job in Bob’s company. Bob is in the middle of an interview with Wall Street Journal reporter Rebecca (Annabelle Wallis) when Hoagie interrupts to tag him. With a successful “tag” and an abrupt plan to spring the trap on another member of the gang, the two set out across the country -- with Rebecca in tow -- to meet up with the others.
We soon learn that the grand plan by the group’s four members is to devise a scheme to finally tag Jerry (Jeremy Renner), the fifth member, and the only one who has never been tagged since the game’s inception. Joining them is slacker pothead “Chillie” (New Girl’s Jake Johnson) and clinically depressed Sable (comedian Hannibal Buress). The plan is to tag Jerry when he least expects it: at his own wedding.
The premise is interesting enough, and with a stable of such fine comic actors who set out on what is essentially a road trip, how can things possibly go so wrong? One must look no further than the shallow script -- by novice big-screen writers Rob McKittrick and Mark Steilen -- that misses its mark more often than it hits and garners hardly a single laugh beyond the film’s opening scenes.
Tonally, the film is all over the place with a misguided sentiment that veers abruptly from openly cloying at times to uncomfortably dark at others. It all makes for an awkwardly disjointed game that is often too mean-spirited to earn our buy-in when it tries for sympathy later on. Gallows humor is a tough nut to crack in a comedy, and it proves too much for director Jeff Tomsic whose jokes about miscarriage, torture, and punishment have us squirming in our seats rather than rolling in the aisles. Even a bit that features a masturbating stuffed animal fails to muster laughs and instead has us groaning at the forced strains.
Much of the film’s humor is couched in the reality and visualization of grown men continuing to play a kid’s game. And that’s also where the film’s heartfelt but poorly mishandled message resides. Their game of tag is actually a metaphor for celebrating friendship and keeping those little things from our childhood alive. Jerry is eventually made to realize that his expertise at the game and avoidance of being “tagged” has actually had a detrimental effect on that friendship. Tomsic and company go for the feels in the closing act, but those emotions haven’t been earned. Unfortunately, we’ve had the rug of emotion pulled out from us a few too many times. Too many of those moments were used to fool us into thinking something important was about to happen, only to learn it was a cheap ruse to get the next guy tagged.
Perhaps if Tag were a much funnier film, its flaws wouldn’t matter so much. Most of the stabs at humor come off as infantile silliness at best and unforgivable laziness at worst. With such a great premise and an even better cast I thought Tag would be a sure thing for plenty of fun and yuks. Unfortunately, they got me. Tag! Now, you’re it!
(Released by Warner Bros. and rated “R” for language throughout, crude sexual content, drug use and brief nudity.)
Review also posted at www.franksreelreviews.com.