Tag (2018)

“We never stopped playing.”

Imagine if Peter Pan never grew up but still dabbled in the many vices of adulthood. Picture him smoking weed, visiting the local watering hole for a pint or a shot or maybe both if the bartender is feeling giving, sacrificing dignity for the sake of getting laid. You’d think this to be a funny concept, similar to so many of those successful Judd Apatow comedies led by aimless men who refuse to grow up, and yet Tag proves this formula doesn’t isn’t always satisfying. The film has laughs but it sorely lacks heart, and after its decent release out of the starting blocks, devolves into a story completely lacking in any kind of tone. Tag isn’t mean enough to be a dark comedy, nor is it nice enough to be a feel-good film. Its frontal lobe – responsible for personality – just isn’t fully developed.

For what it’s worth, Tag does a decent job setting up its preposterous real-life inspiration. A group of adult men participate in the same game of tag that’s been going on for decades, using the 31 days of May as a no holds barred month to accost each other. It’s a story device that’s both on the nose and righteous in its purpose, allowing a childhood game to rekindle lifelong friendships and force interaction, and it serves as a fine example for our current era of social media camaraderie to aspire towards. It’s one thing to send a text, another to make a call, and something else altogether if you’re to surprise a friend in the blood and flesh. Tag has a true motivation to its literal pursuit of human connection, but the fragile package is delivered with very little care. The contents don’t make it to your door in one piece.

Movies like this one require a leading man, and unfortunately here they opt for Ed Helms’ utterly dull character Hogan to be the picture’s centerpiece. He and his wife Anna (Isla Fisher) are consumed by the game, going to unthinkable lengths to finally tag Jerry (Jeremy Renner), the only guy in the group who’s never been tagged. Jerry’s about to get married, yet since they all take this game so seriously, he doesn’t even invite his closest childhood mates for fear that they’ll ruin the proceedings. Hogan finds out and corals the squad. This includes the level-headed Sable (Hannibal Buress), the hot mess appropriately nicknamed Chilli (Jake Johnson), the successful CEO Callahan (Jon Hamm), and a Washington Post reporter (Annabelle Wallis). It’s quite clear that Tag really hopes to strengthen the forgery of modern friendships – to shape them with steel instead of plastic – all while keeping the material merely lukewarm under a cooling lamp instead of spinning it over a roasting hot spit. What should be wild is a little too tame.

The action sequences feature gratuitous amounts of slo-mo, some very spotty use of narration, and are all relatively flat-footed. That’s the problem with Tag; the film has a star-studded cast and a worthy meaning behind the flurry of outreached hands and sprinting steps, but it never really goes anywhere unexpected. With a true story this ludicrous, it’s important for the movie version to establish itself in a tangible reality. Meanwhile, Tag continues to push the envelope and elevate the stakes to such great heights that the inevitable fall is both intriguing and ultimately deadly. As the film finally jogs to the finish line and we see footage of the real men playing the game, I couldn’t help but wish that this sensationalist effort had been a grounded documentary. Only then would I have felt tagged by someone real and warm and human.

“This is getting way too extreme.”

Rating: 2 out of 5

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