Everyone loves big dumb comedies. The history of cinema and box office receipts tell us as much. Too often though, such films have place more of an emphasis on the dumb and less on the fun. It’s a tremulous balacing act, serving both masters. That’s what makes the movies that do manage, a rare breed. It’s not be the poster child for these kinds of movies, but Tagcomes close, while still proving to be quite funny, even as it revels in stupidity.
As all the marketing material has been sure to highlight, Tag is inspired by a true story. From a Wall Street Journal article, no less. While there’s probably isn’t a lot lifted from that story, what is does is give the film a sturdy backbone frame the story upon.
Bill Callahan (Jon Hamm) is the CEO of a corporation that deals with diabetes, though they may also be involved in some shadiness as well. The Wall Street Journal has sent a reporter to do a story on him. 30 seconds into the interview though, in busts Hoagie (Ed Helms), a childhood friend of Bill’s, slapping him on the back and drops a bombshell. Not only his Bill now “it”, but another their friends is retiring from the game they hold so dear.
Though roughly in their 40’s, this group of friends has been playing the same game of “tag” for 30 years. In that time they’ve finessed the rules, either out of necessity or sanity’s sake. For instance, the game is only played in the month of May. The person who ends each season as “it”, will live the next year in shame. Which brings things back to Jerry (Jeremy Renner), the reigning champion, as he’s never once been tagged. Now the gang can settle the score, as the date and location for his upcoming wedding was printed in the local paper. Before they head to their home town though, they assemble the rest of their foolish cohorts.
The problem with the leads is they all come off as extremely one dimensional. Bill is successful and handsome. Hoagie is the defacto leader. His mother’s basement has served as “war room” seemingly for decades. Chilly (Jake Johnson) is the resident pot smoker. Leaving Sable (Hannibal Buress) as the token minority. Jokes on everyone though, as Buress walks away with the film’s best lines. Writers Mark Steilen and Rob McKittrick do a fine job of supplying a healthy dose of humor, but leave everything else by the way side. When they do try to shoe horn in some weight and stakes, it drags the rather loose proceedings down quite a bit.
Try as it might to get by on genial laughs, Tag isn’t without a fair of missteps. Chiefly that it doesn’t do the best job of (which is sadly almost half expected in a lot of films) finding a good use for its female characters. Leslie Bibb and Isla Fischer, as Jerry’s bride-to-be and Hoagie’s wife, respectively, bring along their trademark intensity and insanity, but it’s doled out in small portions. Wallis chimes in to ask the boys questions occasionally, when the film needs a quick breather. She seems to know it’s an unfortunate part, attempting, at least once, to literally blend in with the wallpaper in the background. Marginally worse is Rashida Jones, who literally pops up for three scenes, as the former flame of Bill & Chilly.
For a movie that should feel like an easy gig, director Jeff Tomsic gives the film a solid workout. Various attempts to corner Jerry, or where he stalks the others, are staged like that of a horror movie. The same goes for bits of internal monologues that come during the “tag” sessions. He keeps tongue firmly planted in cheek in these parts, which help with pacing, but hurts any of the film’s attempts to serious.
For all the joshing and ribbing that takes place between the core characters, Tag is a surprisingly sweet affair. While the game may activate the most juvenile of attitudes, they never fall into outright meanness. When they do start heading that way, the film pulls back to demean such actions. It’s humorous, but also more than a little jarring. Matters are made worse when it then makes jokes attempting to deflect potential arguments from the audience. If anything, these rough bits show a film that wants to be more than a stupid fleeting afternoon time filler, but simply doesn’t have the energy to try harder.
Tag isn’t a movie that most people will rush out to purchase when it hit home video. Nor is it a movie that many will remember wholesale in a few months. Maybe even after a few weeks. Dumb movies won’t ever win awards (hopefully) and often they aren’t most people’s cup of tea. Sometimes though, that doesn’t matter. If we laugh even just a few times, a dumb movie can be the best distraction in the world.