Review – Tag

Of all the recent movies to be inspired by a true story, most people would not have expected Tag to be among them.  In his feature-film directorial debut, Jeff Tomsic assembles an all-star cast of accomplished and experienced comedians and comedic actors in an effort to adapt the true story of a game of tag that has lasted for decades (and, yes, is still continuing) to the big screen.  It’s a unique premise only elevated by its real-life status.

Here’s how it works:  Five childhood friends are the participants.  They may enlist the help of others (significant others, other friends, helpful strangers on the street) but only those five guys are active players.  The game only runs during the month of May on an annual basis.  And there are no tag-backs.  Whoever is It when the clock strikes midnight on June 1 must bear the weight of being the loser for the next eleven months, until the game begins, again, the following May.

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I’m going to try and do a better job of protecting you from spoilers than the film’s own trailer(s) did (seriously, WTF, marketing department?) but the story picks up with May having already arrived and the game being afoot (are things other than games ever afoot?).  Hoagie (Ed Helms) breaks the news to friends and competitors Bob, Chilli, and Sable (Jon Hamm, Jake Johnson, and Hannibal Buress, respectively) that their fifth friend and player Jerry (Jeremy Renner) has decided to retire after the game’s current season. Jerry is the game’s best player and has never once been successfully tagged, making it the other guys’ goal to finally tag him before they lose their chance, for good.

Right before the closing credits roll, there are some clips recorded by the real-life guys of themselves playing the game.  They go to great lengths to tag each other and many of the film’s scenes are reflected by these clips provided by the real guys.  The scenes also suggest, however, that the element of one of the guys being undefeated was created for the film which, if my hypothesis there is correct, is a brilliant move and a perfect example of why most adaptations need to be tweaked when being translated to film.

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Without that added element, there is no narrative hook.  There is no focus for the film and nothing to build towards.  What would serve as a climax?  What would be a logical beginning and ending?  The game, itself, theoretically goes on forever (or as long as the guys are around) so, without that extra hurdle for the other four guys to leap, there’s no narrative backbone.  That was excellent insight by story writer and co-screenwriter Mark Steilen.

Beyond the surface qualities, the film tells a tale about a group of lifelong friends who make a concerted effort to remain connected throughout their entire lives.  It’s a sweet sentiment, as we all know what it’s like to drift away from the friends of our youth as adulthood takes hold and pulls everyone in different directions.  But it’s also a story about remaining young at heart.  Just as we all know what it’s like to have distance put between us and our friends, we also all know those people who don’t like and never do anything fun.  They hate movies, television, music, and books.  They don’t play sports.  They don’t laugh.  They take themselves way too seriously.  You’re thinking of someone, right now, aren’t you?  The people represented in this film are determined to never allow themselves to become old, jaded, and cantankerous.  And that includes the outsiders who the guys bring into the fringes of the game.  Life is too short.  Have some frickin’ fun.

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Speaking of having fun, let’s not forget that the film is a comedy.  While it’s not the funniest film of the year, it certainly holds its own and is at its best from a comedic perspective when the characters are interacting through dialogue rather than through the slapstick that is naturally involved in the chase scenes.  Said slapstick is more organic than in the typical film and, in my opinion, a little more entertaining than the average slapstick . . . but it’s still slapstick.  It’s either your thing or it isn’t.  But even if you’re like me, and it isn’t your thing, there’s still plenty of funny verbal exchanges to keep you entertained, as long as you prefer more subtle, character-based comedy to overbearing, passé “jokes”.

Tag is another in a string of solid comedies to come along in 2018.  It’s not quite among the top tier but it’s certainly above average and worth a go for fans of R-rated comedy.  The cast is comprised of actors who know how to deliver a line and the script gives them plenty of good material to work with.  The film is being overshadowed by its competition, at the moment, but if you cared enough to click on this review (thanks for that, by the way), then I think you’ll find plenty to enjoy in Tag.

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