Tag Chases a Deeper Meaning, but It Just Can’t Catch It.
Directed by Jeff Tomsic / 2018
As befits a game of tag that has been continuously played for the past 30 years, there is a large binder filled with written rules and addendums. We get a glimpse at this holy writ once, and references are made to its contents here and there throughout Tag, but by and large its contents can only be inferred through context. And that’s a shame, because there’s probably some interesting rules in there – along with the stories that go with them.
I thought the movie was amusing, and parts of it made me laugh out loud, but…
And there in a nutshell is the issue with Tag the movie. It’s based on a true story of a group of old friends who have been playing a continuous game of tag since they were children- but the only thing it could’ve possibly kept from the real-life game that its subjects play is its general concept. I thought the movie was amusing, and parts of it made me laugh out loud, but I can’t help think that a more documentary-type of approach- nay, an actual documentary about these guys and the game that has come to define their lives- would have been much more fascinating.
Tag’s hyper-exaggerated approach allows for much more slapstick and action comedy than real life would allow. While the characters apparently did disguise themselves as old women in order to get closer to their intended targets unsuspected, I doubt anybody ever used Ewok-style log traps and wuxia-style martial arts to avoid getting tagged the way Jerry does.
Jerry (Jeremy Renner, Hurt Locker, The Avengers) is positioned as the film’s primary antagonist. At the start of the film, Hogan (Ed Helms, The Hangover) recruits the rest of the gang for a mission to finally tag Jerry once and for all. You see, in all the time the group has been playing, Jerry’s never been tagged- not once. And now it seems he’s about to get married and retire from the game with a perfect record. His impending retirement threatens the game’s existence. For Hogan, this is an existential crisis.
So Hogan gets his buddies to come with him back to their old hometown to finally tag Jerry. There’s corporate CEO Bob (Jon Hamm, Baby Driver, Mad Men), stoner Chili (Jake Johnson, Jurassic World), and the high-strung Sable (Hannibal Buress, Neighbors, Broad City). Also along for the ride is Hogan’s hyper-competitive wife, Anna (Isla Fisher, The Wedding Crashers) and a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, Rebecca (Annabelle Wallis, Annabelle: Creation, The Mummy). Rebecca came to talk to Bob about his company’s seemingly shady insurance deals, and stumbles onto the story of the game when Hogan disguises himself as a janitor at Bob’s company in order to tag him during the interview.
With the team assembled, they’re off to tag Jerry. The problem is, Jerry’s apparently grown up to be Batman. He has ninja-like stealth abilities, martial arts and acrobatic skills that would impress Jackie Chan, a preternatural awareness of his environment, a mastery of psy-ops, and the ability to turn anything- and I mean anything, including powdered doughnuts- into effective weapons. Forget Hawkeye, Jeremy Renner should play this guy in the next Avengers movie!
Tag finds most of its humor in the physical comedy of the group trying to tag Jerry, failing and getting curb-stomped as a result. And these bits are pretty funny for the most part. But I think what kept me pleasantly amused throughout Tag has to do with the easy chemistry the cast has with one another. These guys felt like old friends. Maybe their lives have taken them in wildly different directions, but the game keeps drawing them back together, and when they reunite, it’s as if no time has passed.
That’s what makes the idea of ending the game so terrible for Hogan. It’s been his one solid link to his childhood buddies for all of his life. Once that’s gone, it becomes so much harder to retain those bonds. The guys might think they’d stay in touch without it, but we all know how that works in real life. For Hogan, giving up the game means giving up friends, and that’s not a price worth paying.
Whatever deeper meaning the film wants to ascribe to the long-running game, its hard to take it seriously because the movie just wants to be a live-action cartoon.
Is this the same impulse that drives the real-life guys on whom this story is based? I don’t know. It’s possible it is, even if none of them might admit to it. It’d be nice to hear them talk about it. The movie ends with video footage of these guys tagging one another playing over the end credits. It shows some of the lengths they actually go to in order to catch their prey unaware. There isn’t any wire-fu or swinging log traps or armies of body doubles in evidence in the footage. Just a group of guys having the time of their lives tricking and tagging one another well into old age. As much fun as I had while watching Tag, I want to see that other movie more.
Tag‘s extreme slapstick keeps getting in its own way. It’s hard to see these guys as real people playing a real 30-year-old game of tag when they’re repeatedly suffering injuries that’d cripple Wile E. Coyote (how far did Chili fall after bouncing off that AC Unit?). Whatever deeper meaning the film wants to ascribe to the long-running game, its hard to take it seriously because the movie just wants to be a live-action cartoon.
There’s a quote that’s oft-repeated throughout the film (George Bernard Shaw said it): “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” That home video footage demonstrates that more succinctly in its brief runtime than the entirety of the fictionalized film that preceded it.