Over the past few years, comedy has broken out of its faux-philosophical navel-gazing period and begun to play once again with higher concepts. We’re seeing filmmakers taken the form and play with it, whether than be in terms of content (as in Paul Feig’s sublime ‘Spy’) or in execution (the equally sublime ‘Game Night’ from earlier this year). At first glance, ‘Tag’, the feature debut from director Jeff Tomsic, appears to belong in the former camp, a really great idea ripe with comic potential. However, if ‘Tag’ proves anything, it’s that great content isn’t enough if the execution is lacking.
‘Tag’ is inspired by a bizarre true story about a group of men who have been playing the same game of tag for decades. For one month a year, Hoagie (Ed Helms), Bob (Jon Hamm), Chilli (Jake Johnson), Sable (Hannibal Buress) and Jerry (Jeremy Renner) restart a game they began as children, tasked with finding and tagging each other. Jerry though has never been tagged, and with a delectable opportunity presenting himself, and with Hoagie’s wife Anna (Isla Fisher) and New York Times reporter Rebecca Crosby (Annabelle Wallis) in tow, they formulate a plan to finally tag Jerry.
The whole setup is delicious, and the cast promises something really special, so it’s all the more disappointing that ‘Tag’ turns out to be as forgettable and occasionally obnoxious as it is. For one thing, the screenplay from Rob McKittrick and Mark Steilen doesn’t seem to interested in moving past the obvious, either with narrative construction or dialogue. What we essentially get is over and hour and a half of grown men playing an epic version children’s game, and while that sounds innocent enough and the film certainly hammers home the idea of how important it is to never lose your sense of play (to the point where you’re almost blunt to it), the degrees to which these grown men will lie, cheat and cause destruction in order to play and win this game is distractingly unrealistic and often annoyingly juvenile. There’s also no payoff at the end, no realisation or growth in the characters - they’re still obnoxious man children at the end of the film. Each of them is also rendered as cookie-cutter stereotypes, as annoyingly familiar as the over-recycled jokes and in any substance or surprise. Even the female characters in the end have to "play like a man" to make it through, resulting in a film that feels obnoxiously male.
For another, Tomsic’s execution is perfunctory at its best, derivative at its worst. Many of the film’s more interesting moments are pretty much riffs on better films (like Jerry’s ‘Sherlock Holmes’-like ability to read people’s actions), but after the joke wears off, they just become boring. For a film about a chase, about running and pursuit, there’s no established comic rhythm, no visual energy. In fact, most of the film feels pretty inert. Worst of all, the soundtrack is just a frustrating succession of brainless bro-tunes (at least 17 according to IMDb), mostly played for no more than thirty seconds, which doesn’t help the problematic rhythm. Even the cast can’t lift it into something interesting, most of them not bothering to colour outside of the lines of their characters or throwing in endless awkward improv. That said, Isla Fisher is bloody wonderful as the highly competitive Anna who has more drive and passion than any of the men, Hannibal Burgess has a really endearing charm as Sable, and Jeremy Renner is having a blast as Jerry, playing him like a cocky Ethan Hunt who takes the game way too seriously.
The whole set-up is delicious... so it’s all the more disappointing that ‘Tag’ turns out to be as forgettable and occasionally obnoxious as it is.
If it hadn’t been released in the wake of ‘Game Night’, I might have been able to forgive ‘Tag’ for its flaws, but compared to other films of its ilk, it just seems like a missed opportunity. There’s something to be said in there about enduring friendship and the importance of play, but all that gets lost under its dumb execution. There’s just not enough going on to make ‘Tag’ anything other than a forgettable ode of the problematic man-child. I really had hoped better from this one.
PICTURE & SOUND
‘Tag’ does look slick as hell on Blu-ray, with a crisp 1080p 2.39:1 transfer than pops with detail and colour. In fact, the proficiency of the transfer just emphases how visually banal the film is. The same can be said for the DTS-HD MA 5.1 track - technically it does everything right, it’s just a pity what it’s giving us is nothing that special.
One of the few genuinely great moments of ‘Tag’ is the footage at the end of the real players the film is based on. That footage is expanded on in ‘Meet the Real Tag Brothers' (5:03), which features interviews with the Tag Brothers. They outline how the origins of the games, the rules and the creative methods they’ve used over nearly four decades to tag one another, accented with their home videos (as well as scenes from the film just to make it really obvious what the themes of the story are, in case you didn’t get them clearly enough). If only the film itself was as genuine as these men are. There are some deleted scenes (6:20) and, as you would expect from any modern Hollywood comedy, a perfunctory gag reel (8:50).