The popular childrenâs game Tagâwhere kids run around getting âtaggedâ until one survivor remainsâdoes nothing more than foster strategic skills and provide a healthy amount of cardio for its participants. One person in the game wins, while everyone else loses. The movie Tag, which stars a crew of occasionally humorous attractive actors (Jon Hamm, Jeremy Renner, Ed Helms, Jake Johnson, Hannibal Buress and Isla Fisher), is similarly as stressful as a long game of tag, but in this case the viewerâs enthusiasm comes in bursts and waves, and the entire time, youâre wondering when someone will just become âitâ so you can go home.
The plot is based on a true story, which would make for a fantastic documentary in lieu of this strange movie (currently in theaters) about five grown men playing a childrenâs game. In 2013, the Wall Street Journal wrote about the real-life group of men in their 40sâchildhood friends from Spokane, Washingtonâwhoâve been engaging in an ongoing and complex game of Tag for over 23 years. Via WSJ:
One February day in the mid-1990s, Mr. Tombari and his wife, then living in California, got a knock on the door from a friend. âHey, Joe, youâve got to check this out. You wouldnât believe what I just bought,â he said, as he led the two out to his car.
What they didnât know was Sean Raftis, who was âit,â had flown in from Seattle and was folded in the trunk of the Honda Accord. When the trunk was opened he leapt out and tagged Mr. Tombari, whose wife was so startled she fell backward off the curb and tore a ligament in her knee.
âI still feel bad about it,â says Father Raftis, who is now a priest in Montana. âBut I got Joe.â
[MILD SPOILERS AHEAD] The movie mirrors much of its source: the game is active for one month during the year, there is a tag contract, and the lengths these men go to for one month out of the year to no longer suffer in shame as âitâ are beyond reason. The action in the movie version causes much more bodily harm, and the plot is adjusted from real life for dramaâs sake. Jerry (Renner), a lithe, fit personal gym aficionado, is the tag champion. Sable (Buress), Bob (Hamm), Hoagie (Helms), and his wife Anna (Fisher) form an alliance and attempt to stage a coup at Jerryâs weddingâmost of which happens in disastrous comedic set pieces that arenât quite funny or absurd enough to work. Through flashbacks, we see the game stretching through various life events, including funerals and births. The game is used as an excuse to keep these men in touch, though one does wonder why, if they really do like each other as much as they profess to, no one simply picks up the phone or sends a friendly email instead.
Throughout the movie, the stakes are raised and very little is spared; thereâs a miscarriage joke and an AA meeting in a church that turns into a demonstration of Rennerâs parkour skills and his willingness to go to an uncomfortable extreme to avoid ceding the throne. Logic is in the wind in many films, but even more so in Tag. The trouble is that the movie doesnât go far enough. Halfway through the film, I scrawled in my notes: âWhy isnât this a horror movie?â As frightened as I am by my own shadow, this is not a suggestion I would make lightly. As a genre, horror would allow for Renner as Jerry to fully embody the sinister, channeling the Saw franchiseâs Jigsaw Killer, upping the stakes by including literal murder as one of the consequences. Hamm and the rest of the ensemble are merely fine. Jake Johnson, as an affable stoner with little else to live for but the game, was clearly meant to be a comedic character, but all I felt for him was pity.
As Ed Helmsâs spitfire wife Anna, Isla Fisher is a fiercely competitive spirit, barred from playing the game due to a strict no girls allowed policy enacted at the gameâs inception and remaining law from thereon out. When the group confronts an employee played by Thomas Middleditch in a strangely appealing beard and a discomfiting rattail at Jerryâs gym, Anna is the one who screams with the most enthusiasm when the group hesitates to waterboard him. Including her in the game as a worthy opponent for Jerry and his bride-to-be, Leslie Bibb, a bridezilla with a crazed grin who is the mastermind behind the miscarriage gag, wouldâve drastically improved the film. Instead, we are treated to a barrage of scenes featuring beloved actors smashing their bodies through plate glass windows and acting like, well, children.
There is a slight shift at the end of the film, but itâs tonally confusing. By that point, every character has been so foolish that itâs easy to read what happens as the ultimate ruse, a strategy concocted over years calibrated specifically to silence Jerryâs competitive spirit and allow him to just be with his friends. To make that choice wouldâve made the narrative much more compelling, but the movie ends and the credits roll, and all youâre left with is lingering confusion and disappointment.
If you choose to escape the summer heat and slip into a matinee, your reward for making it to the end is home footage of the movieâs source: 10 grown men in khaki shorts and dad jeans who clearly love each other, driving golf carts and popping out of mascot uniforms to tagâand hugâtheir friends, with enthusiasm and with love. They got to have all the fun.