2.5 stars (out of 4)
We’re way past April’s Fools Day so keep in mind that every word in this review is legit. There’s a new comedy in town about five grown men deeply invested in an epic game of tag. Right – that game of tag. It stars a two-time Oscar nominee and a Best Dramatic Actor Emmy winner. It’s based on a true story. And . . . here goes . . . this movie, aptly named Tag, falls on the right side of silly.
Jon Hamm, Jeremy Renner, Ed Helms, Jake Johnson and Hannibal Buress are the lifelong friends that spent their wonder years running around the neighborhood trying to tag each other. Apparently kids used to go outside before the invention of iPhones??! (Helms explains via an opening narration that we don’t play games because games play us; as if he needs to justify the ‘80s.) The buddies grew up but didn’t necessarily mature. Every May, they still travel far and wide in hopes of avoiding capture and being “It.” Helms, the aggressive ringleader, even lands a job as a janitor at a major company so he can ambush Hamm in the office.
This year is different. Despite a generation of tagging, the feisty Renner has somehow evaded the touch of doom. Hey, you expect anything less from an Avenger so elusive that he didn’t even appear in Infinity War? He’s also a groom-to-be, set to wed his bride (Leslie Bibb) in a grandiose May ceremony. What a perfect opportunity to nab him and declare long-awaited victory. Helms rounds up the pals, plus his wife (Isla Fisher), and a comely Wall Street Journal reporter (Annabelle Wallis) hot on the story, and off they go to play catch that inner-kid. Blessedly, none of the guys make a pass at the journalist. And while the females are in the minority, they don’t just sit on the sidelines to cheer on their guys.
Unlike Dodgeball (i.e., another movie based on a schoolyard game), the comedy in Tag isn’t goofy, satirical or overtly broad. These guys take their tag seriously, and they are dead-set on getting their mark. And the ensuing cat-and-mouse antics range between hugely insipid and vaguely inspired. Ever the intense actor, Renner shows off his take-no-prisoners physicality every time the guys set up a trap for him. He and Helms make a likable comedy team, with the latter taking the brunt of the hits. Hamm sends up his own brooding actor image, going into faux-serious Derek Zoolander mode during his interviews with Wallis. I’m still not convinced that these actors would be friends in real life, as Buress is 12 years younger than Hamm and Renner. Their loose camaraderie suffices.
That chemistry component is key given Tag’s utter disposability. Though two male screenwriters try to dress up the friends’ behavior as a means for the guys to literally stay in touch with each other, the method in which the message is conveyed is a heavy-handed eye-roll. Why go deep at all? Embrace the absurd! Emotional and physical bonding aside, we all know we’re watching men behave like merry boys just because. Love it or leave it. Just don’t run circles around it.
Tag opens in theaters on Friday, June 15