The mantra repeated in ‘Tag’ might as well be the overall tagline for the film: “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” The film never stops playing, and the gags never get old.
Based on an almost unbelievable true story, ‘Tag’ is about a playground game that has been going on for 30 years. Started when they were kids and adapted for adulthood, five friends spend the month of May every year watching their backs and running like hell.
The lengths these guys go to seem almost unbelievable as well. The film opens with Hoagie (Ed Helms) practically begging to be hired as a janitor. We soon see that this is all a ruse to get close to Callahan (Jon Hamm) and tag him as “It.” This would all be in good fun were it not for the timing of Hoagie’s attack. Callahan was in the middle of an interview with The Wall Street Journal and was trying to present himself as the successful businessman he is. Playing tag with another grown man might strip that presentation away, but it also piques the interest of the reporter (Annabelle Wallis). This story of life-long tag is much better than a generic business profile.
The guys reunite with Randy (Jake Johnson) and Sable (Hannibal Buress) with varying levels of engagement in the game. While Randy gives them chase, Sable is caught in the middle of a therapy session. Appropriate boundaries are not a concern for this bunch.
The final member of the tag gang is Jerry (Jeremy Renner). Jerry still lives in their hometown and just so happens to be getting married this May. If ever there was a place for boundaries, you would think a wedding would be it. Think again.
‘Tag’ relies on two universal truths of comedy: 1) It will always be funny to watch grown men act like children, and 2) It will always be funny to watch people take something incredibly trivial as impossibly serious. Both of these modes could seem like crutches for ‘Tag’, but instead the movie exploits them and keeps the jokes rolling. Even as these grown men are acting like fools, there’s a certain warmness and comradery amongst the gang.
All of these men have grown old, but not all have grown up. Callahan is successful but still pines after an old crush (Rashida Jones). Randy is a stoner who’s stuck in life after a divorce and lives with his dad (Brian Dennehy). Hoagie has a great career and awesomely enthusiastic wife (Isla Fisher), but we learn that not everything in his life is wonderful. These characters are three dimensional and they need each other to get through life. Their friendship goes far beyond the game of tag, but tag always brings them together when they seem to forget that.
‘Tag’ manages to strike the tenuous balance between humor and heart. A good deal of credit for that balance is owed to the true story on which the story is based. The rest of the credit should go to stellar performances, great gags, and characters who will stop at nothing to not be “It.”