Here’s a confession from someone who painstakingly avoids watching previews before seeing the movie: I watched the preview for “Tag” before I saw it. Write it off as an accident, but I knew 10 seconds in that it was going to be a silly, one-joke movie and I had no interest in seeing it or reviewing it. So, I kept watching, not caring what would be given away.
Surprise! I eventually saw the entire film and I was right: It’s a silly, one-joke movie, telling the story of a group of guys who played tag together when they were kids and how, as adults, they put aside the month of May each year to carry on with that game. They’re now scattered all over the country, but when May comes around, they travel, meet up, and whoever was It on the last day of May the previous year, gets to start the game rolling again.
So, here’s why I liked it:
It’s got an inventive script, filled with a lot of heart. It’s got a quintet of actors — Ed Helms, Jeremy Renner, Jon Hamm, Jake Johnson, Hannibal Buress — who are completely committed to getting the story told and played out the way it needs to be, often with slapstick physicality as well as with strong messages pertaining to the importance of friendship. The film works on all sorts of levels that aren’t even hinted at in the trailer.
Based on a true story that was featured in a piece in the Wall Street Journal, the film jumps out of the gate by showing just how into the game the players are. We meet Hoagie (Ed Helms) in disguise, just before he sneaks up on and tags his old pal Callahan (Jon Hamm) while Callahan, the CEO of a large insurance company, is giving an interview to Rebecca (Annabelle Wallis), a reporter from the Journal. Hoagie is laser-focused on getting him, Callahan is caught off-guard, the reporter is thinking aloud, “What the heck is going on?”
Before long, we find that Jerry (Jeremy Renner), the only guy in the group that’s never been tagged and proudly intends to keep it that way, is about to get married, then retire from the game with his tag-free reputation intact. So, with Hoagie pushing for it, and Rebecca as well as Hoagie’s foul-mouthed and feisty wife Anna (Isla Fisher) allowed to join the guys, the mantra — “Are you gonna grow old or are you gonna keep playing?” — is dusted off, and the game is on, in their hometown of Spokane. Hanging over everyone’s head is the possibility that with Jerry’s impending retirement, it may be their last game.
There are rules, lots of them: A brief truce can be called to talk things out; if you’re tagged, you cannot tag back the tagger; and in this special case, there will be no tagging at the wedding rehearsal or at the wedding.
The script keeps things buzzing along. There’s a raucous foot chase, a zany “Jackass”-centric golf cart chase, and all sorts of action revolving around the idea that while all five guys are competitive at it, Jerry, the most physically fit of them, turns it into a version of “extreme” tag. He not only has what amounts to the moves of a superhero, he’s also got heightened senses connected to everything going on around him and he has his own mantra: “I will never let you tag me.”
But the real reason I liked it is that smack in the middle of all the craziness is the initially subtle, yet ever-growing idea that the game is what’s kept these guys and their friendship together over the decades. Sure, it’s a silly, one-joke movie, but it’s also a warm and wise love story, so much more than what the movie trailer is selling.