Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Review: "Tag"

"Tag" is an amazing true story that got turned into a mediocre movie.

I think I'd rather have watched a documentary about the real group of 10 adult men who have spent decades playing a game of tag, which was chronicled in the Wall Street Journal in 2014. I imagine something like Michael Apted's "Up" series, in which he checks in with the same British folks every seven years. Instead we got a zany R-rated comedy with lots of f-words and pratfalls.

It's exactly what it sounds like: grown men sneaking up on each other, slapping a hand on the other to pass on the designation of who's "it." The idea is to never lose your sense of childhood by never ceasing to play. They limit the game to the month of May to keep things at least semi-sane.

"This game has given us a reason to stay in each other's lives," one says, summing up the theme beneath the mirth.

I really liked this cast: Ed Helms, Jeremy Renner, Jon Hamm, Hannibal Buress, Jeremy Renner, Isla Fisher, Jake Johnson. In fact, I'm afraid this movie fails Gene Siskel's test of whether you'd rather just watch the actors having lunch with each other. Definitely if the menu was all spicy food.

Helms is Hoagie, a dentist and the dweeby heart and soul of the game, or at least he says so; Buress is Sable, who's supposed to be the nervous nelly of the bunch but is very laid-back about it; Johnson is Chilli, a scruffy sort who does little but play tag and smoke pot; and Hamm is Callahan, the CEO of an insurance company who was supposed to be interviewed by the Journal before the tag game intruded and took over the story.

The setup is that one of their number, Jerry (Renner), has never been tagged in 30 years. Now he's decided to retire from the game, so they have three days left to get him -- which also happens coincide with his wedding on the last day of May.

He's the Jason Bourne to their Keystone Kops, pulling out elite hand-to-hand combat skills and parkour-style jumps to avoid the tag. The movie makes a joke of this, going into slo-mo while Jerry narrates his own badass moves.

The director, TV guy Jeff Tomsic, and screenwriters Rob McKittrick and Mark Steilen struggle to find things for the characters to do other than just chase each other for a hundred minutes. So there's a lot of scenes of the guys just hanging out and cutting up, mugging for the camera and such.

The filmmakers also bring in all sorts of ill-fitting non-sequitars, like the hot girl (Rashida Jones) two of them used to be sweet on back in the day. She keeps flirting with them and then leaving abruptly; I'm not sure even she knows why she's in the movie.

The female characters in general do not fare well. Fisher plays Anna, Hoagie's wife, who acts as his wingman and coach. She's supercompetitive and screams a lot, and clearly is dying to play the game herself, and would probably be really good at it.

Annabelle Wallis is Rebecca, the Journal reporter who's following the boys around for their mission. She's often hanging around in the back of scenes, but on a number of occasions she just disappears entirely, as if she got tired of pretending to tag along. (It was also a male reporter who wrote the story in real life, so I was expecting some sort of romantic bloom to happen.)

Leslie Bibb plays Susan, Jerry's fiance, who's very toothy and effervescent. Super suspicious. Nora Dunn is Hoagie's mom, who keeps hitting on Chilli in a most creepy fashion.

There are a few decent laughs in the movie, just not enough to sustain any true humorous momentum. It's loud and talky and there's always something going on, so it's not exactly boring but not really engaging. Watching it is an exercise in just playing along.

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