Monday, July 9, 2018

Review: "Tag" has a tender heart underneath its dumb fun

Tag Review

I've had the same group of high school friends for forever now. But I usually see them all about once a year. It's not easy when one is in Delaware, and another is in Colorado and another is in Wisconsin and so on and so forth. So we don't get together like we used to, but that's okay. We've worked around that as best we could. A couple years ago, we started a Dungeons and Dragons game with everyone, and that was always a fun way to kill four or so hours while catching up. Then that evolved in X-Box One Live games. That evolved into, well a hiatus for now. But the point is that we will always come up with a way to connect with each other.

"Tag" is the strangest true story I've ever heard. Ten friends keep up a game of tag which has been happening since they were nine years old. In order to keep up with each other's lives, they play this tag game once every May, during their "Tag Season." Whoever is it by the end of May is it and next year it begins again. I still can't believe this is a true story and there is a real group of friends out there doing this, but hey. That's dedication. "Tag" the movie stars Jon Hamm, Ed Helms, Hannibal Buress, Jake Johnson and Jeremy Renner. They are these friends who have been playing since they were nine and now well into adulthood, their game of tag is alive and well.

The game has certainly evolved into their adulthood, and nothing seems to be off-limits. Someone gets tagged when their wife is giving birth. Another person is tagged at their mother's funeral. They get their other friends involved, they get their wives involved. As the film opens Ed Helms' Hoagie gets a job at Jon Hamm's Callahan's own company, just so he can tag him. I think this highlights right away just what type of movie this is going to be, and just how far its willing to go with its humor. Over the course of this friendship, the only person who has never been tagged is Jerry, played by Jeremy Renner. We find out why pretty quickly, he's able to outsmart his friends with ease, and his unbelievable athleticism takes the game to a whole new degree, and nobody can keep up.

Jerry is engaged to Susan (Leslie Bibb) and their wedding happens to fall in May, the group of friends see it as the best time to finally set up plans to trap Jerry and tag him once and for all. But also because of the wedding, Susan begins putting limits on the game. Because of his engagement and his soon-to-be fatherhood, Jerry is planning to retire from the tag game after this year. So the group is hellbent to tag Jerry just once. The movie is smart to showcase just well a "tag player" Jerry is without necessarily turning him into a cliche "bad guy." This is a movie that is absolutely in love with itself. It's in love with its characters. It's a good thing too, because the premise is so gleefully absurd that the audience needs something to hold onto while they move along with the movie. You can't go wrong with a cast that includes Jon Hamm, Ed Helms, Hannibal Buress, Jake Johnson, Jeremy Renner, Leslie Bibb and which also features Isla Fisher, Annabelle Wallis and Rashida Jones.

Yeah, let me talk about Isla Fisher just a bit. Because out of all the women in the movie, she's the absolute best. There is a reason why she's one of the top comedic talents of her generation. Fisher plays Anna, Hoagie's wife. And trust me, she's the embodiment of what we all deserve in a significant other. She seems to have not only accepted that her husband is in a lifelong game of tag with his oldest friends, but relishes in all of it. Even though the group made a strict "NO GIRLS ALLOWED" rule when they were nine, and which they adhered by in adulthood. Doesn't matter, she does what she can to help her husband when he needs it. That alone leads to some of the funniest material in the movie. Wallis is good, but she really isn't given too much to do.

Rashida Jones shows up as Cheryl, who was an old flame of almost all the boys in the group, mostly Callahan and Jake Johnson's "Chili." They both try to go for her when they see her again and it seems like just a weird direction to go that it took me out of the movie. Suddenly, there is a competition for the affection of this girl between two of the guys and it throws off the rest of the movie. It suddenly feels like a different movie altogether and it rubbed me wrong. Thankfully, it doesn't last very long. It seems though that Johnson is almost typecast at this point thought. Chili is pretty much Nick from "The New Girl" except he smokes lots and lots of weed.

What could have boiled down to a simple cat-and-mouse with the group of friends finally prevailing over their rival ends up not happening. Instead, the movie ends reminding the audience of just how precious something like a close friendship is. No matter how young we think we are at any given time, life will eventually catch up with all of us. At the most unexpected time, so we have to have as much fun as possible, no matter how old we get. The movie has some really sincere things to say about close friendships that I was honestly a little shocked once the credits began to roll.

So the next big question, is the movie funny? Well, there are plenty of times where I laughed out loud. With the cast involved, I would have been frustrated if the movie didn't generate a single laugh. So yes, I did laugh. Although I'll admit, I didn't laugh nearly as much as I thought I would. I was expecting it to be much funnier than it actually was. I don't think I've really bust my gut laughing in a long time at the theater, and I can't say that I walked away in pain, which is too bad. But did I laugh a little bit, yes. At least it didn't sell itself as a comedy then forget to put some laughs in.

Its the film's heart that finally won me over. I am sure that made some of you grown. But its not has self-evident as it sounds. "Tag" is a fun time at the movies, albeit a dumb fun kind of time.

FINAL GRADE: B

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