George Bernard Shaw is credited with the adage: “We don’t stop playing because we grow old, we grow old because we stop playing.” Ironically, it’s that saying that grows old throughout the duration of Jeff Tomsic’s Tag; it’s repeated over and over again like some kind of cheesy playground mantra, and it pretty much sums up the film’s problems as a whole. It grows old fairly quickly. Well, that and the fact that the bulk of the characters are wholly unlikeable and doing things that are in ridiculously poor taste or downright criminal.
The concept is fairly simple, and it’s based, incredulously, on real-life events—a group of friends have been playing the same game of tag since grade school. Every May the game is on, and whoever is “it” needs to tag anyone else in the group. It could happen at a funeral, on a random morning walking down the street, or, as Tag’s opening sequence shows, when one of the guys (Ed Helms’ Hoagie) takes a job as a janitor at a company run by another (Jon Hamm’s Callahan), for the sole purpose of tagging him.
Complicating things this year is the fact that one of the guys, Jerry (Jeremy Renner), is getting married soon and wants to retire on top; he’s never been tagged. So the whole gang gets together for one last round of adolescent shenanigans, including pot-head Chili (Jake Johnson) and the low-key Sable (Hannibal Buress). Also along is Hoagie’s fanatical wife Anna (Isla Fisher) and Wall Street Journal reporter Rebecca (Annabelle Wallis), who happened to be interviewing Callahan at the time of Hoagie’s attempted tag and decided to switch the focus of her story to the game.
The half-baked script by Rob McKittrick (Waiting…) and Mark Stellen alternates between moments of laugh-out-loud lunacy and ones of cringe-inducing idiocy. Every fun scene of the guys harmlessly playing off each other is torpedoed by a bit involving chloroform or Home Alone levels of goofball violence. And that’s before the whole miscarriage debacle. Yeah, Tag goes there.
It’s a shame, really, because there’s a decent movie underneath it all. The actors are all having a blast, playing well off each other even if they’re falling three stories onto the hood of a car or getting caught in a tree net trap. And with the exception of a misguided and pointless love triangle subplot involving a long-ago girlfriend (Rashida Jones), Tag zips right along. Parts of it are just so dark, however, that you can’t help but find yourself wondering if the screenwriters are just that out of touch comedically, or if these things actually happened in real life…which makes it land somewhere between distracting and downright disturbing.
Tag has its moments, to be sure, and Isla Fisher’s whack-a-doo performance is worth the price of a ticket all by itself, but the movie falls short of being “it”, and that may just make you wanna take your ball and go home.