New in Theaters: Tag

Past the Popcorn provides South King Media with exclusive reviews of Theatrical and Home Video entertainment. We aim to dig just a little deeper than the surface of what we watch.

About 23 years ago in Spokane, Washington, a group of 9-year-old friends began playing a game of tag that never stopped.  Even as adults, the friends would dedicate each and every month of May to playing the game they enjoyed as kids, which served as a way of keeping them together even as their lives began to spread across the whole country.  First publicly documented in an article in The Wall Street Journal, this story of friendship has now been adapted for the big screen with an all-star comedy cast in the new movie Tag.

Ed Helms plays Hogan “Hoagie” Malloy, who opens the film by getting hired as a janitor at a Fortune 500 company for the sole purpose of being able to get close to the head man, his childhood friend Bob Callahan. Hoagie interrupting Bob’s interview with a journalist in full disguise immediately piques the reporter’s interest into why these grown men are putting so much effort into a kids’ game.  When Hoagie explains to Bob that their never-been-tagged friend Jerry is planning to retire from the game after getting married over the weekend, Bob agrees to join Hoagie in recruiting all of their former gang in making one last attempt to tag their elusive friend.  The journalist, of course, insists that she be taken along.

After gathering the rest of their friends, they show up in their old hometown and plot their takedown of Jerry. Although they think they are catching Jerry off guard while he is distracted by his wedding, it turns out that Jerry was expecting them and has prepared his defenses. For the next hour, the friends chase, deceive, embarrass, and at times painfully injure each other all in the name of making sure Jerry is the last one to be “it.”

Tag is a high-concept comedy and it certainly delivers some laughs, but it often has trouble finding its footing tonally.  The tone dances back and forth between light and dark comedy, action movie and sitcom, but lacks the evasive Jerry’s nimbleness in doing so.  This carries over into the actors, too, who often feel like they are in different movies from their co-stars.  Ed Helms, for example, is in the situation comedy, while Jeremy Renner, as Jerry, is in an action movie.  John Hamm plays the middle ground, while Jake Johnson is in full-on stoner comedy mode.   Hannibal Buress, meanwhile, often feels less like part of the gang and more like a Greek chorus off to the side commenting on the action.  In fairness, though, he does get many of the movie’s best lines.

As for the women in the cast, Isla Fisher is the only one who is given much to do, but she also feels like she is in her own movie: a very angry movie.  Annabelle Wallis, as the journalist, is always around, but often forgotten in the shuffle.  And Rashida Jones is completely wasted as the former childhood crush of Hamm’s Bob and Johnson’s “Chilli.”

The movie is at its best when it is less about action and more about deception.  There is a terrific sequence in the middle of the film when the gang breaks into Jerry’s house and discovers that he takes this game much more seriously than he has been letting on.  Unfortunately, this aspect constitutes so little of a movie that instead tries to mine humor from painful, Jackass-like violence which lacks that movie’s authenticity.  Also taking away from the film’s authenticity is the fact that so many of the stunts look so obviously CGI-aided.

The movie does ultimately have a good moral message, but it is missing in action for the most of the film before being suddenly thrust on us in the finale.  That finale does land, though, giving the movie some emotional weight on the back-end.

Tag spreads about a trailer’s worth of good jokes throughout its 100 minute runtime and pulls off a couple of good tricks, but it is ultimately one of those comedies that is probably better served by catching it on television while doing chores around the house rather than dedicating multiple hours of your day towards a trip to the theater.

Tag opens today at the AMC Kent Station 14, the AMC Southcenter 16, the Century Federal Way, and the Landing Stadium 14 in Renton.


Find tickets and showtimes on Fandango.