You might presume that in a time when men behaving like boys is out of fashion, films depicting such behavior would be on the outs as well. But the new movie Tag actually leans into these themes in a big way and still manages to maintain a likable core thanks to a truly inspired cast.
Based on a true story (as written about in the Wall Street Journal by Russell Adams), Tag is the story of a group of five men who have been friends since they were kids, who, for one month out of the year (May), play a ruthless and aggressive game of tag in which the rules do not apply—unless they are written down in an age-old rule book that these guys have been updating since they started the game. Whomever is “It” comes up with elaborate schemes to get close enough to another unsuspecting friend to tag him, and…you get the idea.
The goofballs in question are Callahan (Jon Hamm), Randy (Jake Johnson), Hoagie (Ed Helms), Sable (Hannibal Buress), and the only one of the five to have avoided being tagged ever, Jerry (Jeremy Renner). On this particular year, Jerry is getting married in May, making his wedding and the surrounding events a prime target for getting tagged. So, he doesn’t invite his friends. Naturally, they find out anyway, but Jerry is prepared for any eventuality, and his good-natured bride-to-be (Leslie Bibb) asks for certain dates and times around wedding events to be off limits (an amendment is added to the rule book). But otherwise, she’s knows what she’s marrying into.
When a particular member of the group is being chased by another one, it seems that the world around them must simply suffer through the inevitable destruction that results. And no one ever seems to get in trouble or suffer any other consequences as a result of any mayhem. It doesn’t exactly ring true, but it does help maximize the humor when people aren’t constantly apologizing for acting like idiots.
The film doesn’t dig much into the personal histories of any of the characters—Callahan is a successful businessman; Randy is a divorced, unemployed stoner; Hoagie is happily married (to Isla Fisher, whose Anna may be more competitive than he is); and Sable is dealing with issues that are barely touched upon in a therapy session we see early on. But the casting of such interesting actors makes it easy to fill in the blanks or simply not care because they are so much fun to watch.
The boys are followed around this particular month of May by a reporter from the Wall Street Journal (Annabelle Wallis’ Rebecca; why they made the journalist a woman, I’m not sure, but she’s a nice addition). We also meet Cheryl (Rashida Jones), who a couple of the guys had crushes on in high school, and one still has his marijuana-reddened eyes on.
Marking the feature film debut of Jeff Tomsic, Tag seems to have a firm grasp on the reality that this behavior is not just obnoxious and dumb, but sometimes dangerous. But it also understands that this game has kept these five men friends for life, and that seems to have made a real difference in their lives, especially when things have taken a turn for the worse.
Having directed several stand-up specials and comedy series, Tomsic also has a keen sense of timing and pacing, making this film one of the funniest I’ve seen in a while. Screenwriters Rob McKittrick and Mark Steilen also seem to have a firm grasp on how close to the bad-taste line they can go. There’s a line that Johnson delivers about miscarriage that is so perfectly written (assuming he didn’t improvise it) and executed in the perfect context that the audience I saw the film with was both howling with laughter while simultaneously trying not to.
Helms, Buress, Jones, and Fisher are proven comedic talents, and each gets at least one prime moment to shine in Tag. But at some point, the world must simply acknowledge and embrace the fact that Jon Hamm is as great a comedic actor as he is a dramatic one. Partly, he’s so good because he’s defying the expectations of his looks, but he’s also just really damn funny without telling jokes. Renner could still use a little polish on the humor side of his talents, but he’s not half bad either.
I don’t mean to oversell Tag as some masterstroke of comedy, but if you bother to dig a little deeper into the beating hearts underneath the big game being played, there’s something quite charming and touching happening. To add a nice touch to the proceedings, the film includes some fun home movies of the actual, ongoing tag game that was originally written about (there were closer to 10 players in real life) where many of the crazy costumes, disguises and pranks used to forward the game in the movie—which we assume are exaggerations—turn out to be pretty accurate. Finding that out made me enjoy this ridiculously entertaining movie even more.