A group of middle-aged guys have been playing the same game of ‘Tag’ one month a year for 28 years. Although they live in different cities, four of the guys (Jon Hamm, Ed Helms, resident stoner Jake Johnson, and Hannibal Buress) still keep in touch. The loner of the group also happens to be the one guy who has never – ever – been tagged, Jeremy Renner. Helms feels this is the year to change that, however. Apparently Renner is getting married to (typical Bridezilla) Leslie Bibb, and although none of the gang have conveniently been invited, he suggests they show up anyway…and tag him. Also helping out is Helms’ uber-enthusiastic wife Isla Fisher, seemingly a long-time acquaintance of the gang although she’s not an official participant in the game (No girls allowed. This game started when they were kids and who cared about sexism when they were a kid?). However, Renner has anticipated their arrival and will not make it easy for them. Rashida Jones turns up as an old acquaintance whom both Johnson and Hamm (putting a juvenile comedic spin on his corporate suit persona) have fancied for years. Annabelle Wallis plays a journalist who started off thinking she’d be writing about Hamm’s job, but thinks this ‘Tag’ thing will be a far more interesting story to cover. I should point out at this juncture that this is genuinely the plot of the film. I’m not kidding.
Sometimes, going into a film with little or low expectations can see reward. The basic idea here for this 2018 comedy from director Jeff Tomsic (mostly a director of TV comedies and shorts) and screenwriters Rob McKittrick (writer-director of “Waiting…” with Ryan Reynolds and Anna Faris) and Mark Steilen (co-executive producer of TV’s “Shameless”) was one that I found hilariously idiotic when I heard about it. However, it became quickly apparent that it also could’ve been an idea turned into a stinker of a film, depending on how it was handled. It could’ve easily ended up another unpleasant, unfunny “Hangover” movie. I really wasn’t sure if it was worth seeing, particularly given I’ve rarely enjoyed anything with either Jon Hamm or Ed Helms (one of the “Hangover” creeps) in the cast. So I waited a while on it, until I had nothing better to do for a couple of hours. Thankfully this is one of the good modern American comedies, an idiotic film about an idiotic group of people doing an idiotic thing…that nonetheless happens to be frequently hilarious.
Loosely based on a true story printed in the Wall Street Journal (The real-life gang were all white, for one thing), I’m not sure why reviews for this have been so harsh. I had a good time with it, even if the last 10 minutes or so is a bit mushy, and I have no idea why the mid-end credits rendition of that Crash Test Dummies song by one of the cast members here was meant to be funny. For starters, the actor in question is already known for releasing a song or two, so he’s not a terrible singer. Weird. It’s also blatantly obvious that Jake Johnson and Hannibal Buress are younger than the other three main cast members (Buress is even younger than me, for cryin’ out loud and I’m 40), with Hamm and Helms looking even older than they actually are. The Nirvana poster on one of their childhood bedroom door’s is woefully inappropriate for several people surely born somewhere in the 70s (except Buress). Anyway, that’s extreme nit-picking in an otherwise enjoyably dopey, immature comedy.
I think part of why this works is because although it’s an entirely idiotic, juvenile, overgrown frat boy premise for a film, I wasn’t remotely surprised that there was a real-life case behind it. It’s just that the filmmakers have likely exaggerated it for comedic effect. From what I gather however, they haven’t exaggerated as much as you likely suspect. End credits footage of real-life tagging seems to jive with most of what we see in the fictionalised version. I also think part of the charm is that not only is it a movie about a bunch of friends trying to hang on to at least one fun thing from their childhood, they’re a pretty likeable bunch for the most part, unlike say “The Hangover” creeps. The laughs come early with a genuinely funny opening scene where Ed Helms is clearly applying for a janitor job just so he can tag Jon Hamm, who works at the place. This is too petty and stupid not to be funny, and I have to say that although I’m not a fan, Hamm is perfectly cast as a slick schmuck who absolutely is not too corporate to engage in such a stupid, protracted game. Don’t let the “Mad Men” suit fool you, it doesn’t take much arm-twisting or carrot-dangling to get Hamm into the spirit. At one point in the scene, Hamm tries to escape his office by throwing a chair at a window. It bounces off and hits him. This is a perfect indicator of what to expect here. I thought it was hilarious, your mileage may wildly differ. As the seemingly un-taggable member of the group Jeremy Renner is funny from his opening scene, wrangling his way out of being tagged with “Matrix”-like prowess. He’s perfectly cast as the elusive, almost James Bond-like skilled ‘Tag’ player. Isla Fisher does her uber-intense comic schtick from “Wedding Crashers” as Helms’ over-zealous wife, and it’s perfect for this film. She’s a high-powered hoot, whilst Leslie Bibb has never been better as Renner’s Bridezilla-to be, and that’s not damning her with faint praise. She’s terrific here as a woman who has zero time for any of this juvenile bullshit, when there’s a wedding at stake. Or is there more going on? I dare not reveal either way. Stand-up comedian Hannibal Buress (i.e. The guy who reminded all of us that we’d actually heard about – and forgot about – Bill Cosby’s nasty shit years beforehand) has a few funny bits as the rather nerdy, introverted member of the group, who is a bit spacey at times. In a film full of idiots, he’s probably the biggest of the lot.
Either the idea of a bunch of middle-aged men continuing to play a childhood game more than 20 years later is funny to you or it isn’t. It was funny to me, that’s all I can really say. I didn’t even mind the sentimental finale, to be honest. It’s only the last ten minutes and it can be seen from a mile away anyhow. Lord help me, I really liked this one, although I don’t think I ever needed to see a tattooed, bong-smoking Brian Dennehy (wasted in a cameo). Ever. I’m a bit surprised that some critics had such a hostile attitude to such a silly (and funny) film. Did they never win at ‘Tag’?