Wears its heart directly on its sleeve, and surprisingly never quite loses itself even in the most sentimental of moments.
On occasion yet all too rarely, audiences are given an American male-led comedy that embodies masculine qualities beyond the toxicity. Tag is one of these movies. The film follows a group of five friends—Hoagie (Ed Helms), Callahan (Jon Hamm), Randy AKA Chilli (Jake Johnson), Sable (Hannibal Buress) and Jerry (Jeremy Renner)—who have all been playing the same game of tag for three decades. What began as a childhood game evolved throughout the years, even as these characters have gone their separate ways. In their adult lives, the crew reignites their game of tag every May, going to remarkable lengths to place their hands upon one another and yell “You’re It!”
Oh, and it’s all based on a true story. Perhaps this is what makes Tag such an unexpectedly rich, fulfilling and slightly emotional studio comedy—it’s about friends who truly feel like friends, and it’s arguably the best comedic affair about male bonding since 2009’s I Love You, Man. Through subtle verbal jabs, boyish playfulness and asshole punching, the film captures the camaraderie of dudes in ways opposite to films that are simply based on bros embarking on pot-laced adventures or sexual conquests. Those films can certainly be funny and iconic (see Superbad, Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle, etc.) but the raunchiness often overpowers the heart. With Tag, the movie wears its heart directly on its sleeve, and surprisingly never quite loses itself even in the most sentimental of moments.
It’s also riotously funny. The cast does wonderful work here, their collective chemistry infectious and genuine. The basic shtick is also fruitful territory for an abundance of gags, such as a moment where Jake Johnson asks, “Who’s it?” and Jon Hamm runs full speed at him yelling “I AM, MOTHERFUCKER!” It’s not as humorous through text as it is visually, and such is the case for much of the film. It’s an expert blend of physical comedy and whip-crack dialogue that keeps the laughs coming.
Jeremy Renner is a major highlight, playing the hotshot of the friend group who has a perfect record of never being tagged. When he is threatened by a potential tag, the film veers into stylish slow-motion photography that’s similar to the calculated choreography of the fight scenes in Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes| films. Isla Fisher as Hoagie’s wife, Anna, is also a major source for laughs, holding her own against the boys and at times even toppling their comedic output. The gag is that she takes the game far too seriously, even though she’s not technically allowed to play (“No Girls Allowed” was an early established rule).
Style is surprisingly prevalent in most of the film, too. The feature directorial debut of Jeff Tomsic, who has helmed many comedy specials and TV work, Tag blends the aforementioned slow-motion work with slick editing, playful sight gags and there are even shots of Jake Johnson running while smoking a joint that mirror the fixed-camera, floating-head work of Martin Scorsese and Spike Lee. The style is surprising, but the film as a whole is an abundant delight.