‘Tag’ Uses Oddball True Story for a Fun Time

Tag” is not lying. It actually is based on a true story. By the end, when we get a glimpse of the real people behind this oddball tale, it becomes even more fun. This is goofy entertainment, without pretension but full of energy. Every single cast member feels like they’re actually enjoying themselves, in the same way a person can get caught up in a rowdy game. Their dilemma is simple, how to tag the one member of the group who never gets hit. Director Jeff Tomsic is sly in taking such an idea and turning it into a lighthearted meditation on friendship.

It has been 30 years since a group of friends first started a game of tag as kids in the 1980s. Now as adults, Callahan (Jon Hamm), Hoagie (Ed Helms), Sable (Hannibal Buress) and Randy (Jake Johnson), continue the tradition every May. For the whole month they continue their game of tag until someone is left “it” until the next round. It doesn’t matter where they are or what they happen to be working in, the game continues despite office hours, family events and even funerals. But one member of the group has never been tagged, Jerry (Jeremy Renner), who now works as some kind of fitness guru. Hoagie is determined that this is the year they get him, no matter what. The perfect opportunity presents itself when the gang learns that Jerry is getting married. They will make their way to the wedding to celebrate and finally get their elusive friend. Tagging along is a Wall Street Journal reporter, who can’t pass on this story.

This is the kind of movie that seeks to be nothing more than fun and laughs, with a particular message at its core. You could say it celebrates quirkiness itself. Many groups establish rituals for themselves, whether meeting at the country club, getting together to play poker or barbecuing on Sundays. This particular group loves tag in the month of May. Of course the movie exaggerates the gags, especially when it comes to Jerry’s action movie tactics to avoid getting tapped. But the antics have a classic, slapstick sense of humor that harkens back to a purer, more innocent form of comedy. Even the inevitable dirty jokes never descend into utter toilet humor, although there is one miscarriage joke that is bold in daring you to laugh. But the real chortles are inspired by the way the movie turns the game of tag itself into an over the top marathon. These guys will stop at nothing to tag each other, from scaling buildings to showdowns at the mall. Jerry has a lair with maps of the city, different disguises and whenever cornered, his mind morphs into a detailed, Navy Seal breakdown of the moment, calculating at what angle to throw a donut at his pursuer. Hoagie goes the farthest in trying to get a target, disguising himself as a janitor to infiltrate Callahan’s corporate office and as an old lady to get near Jerry. You can’t help but get wound up in the plot, eager to see just how they can tag this guy.

The characters work because of the talented cast, who bask in tapping into their infantile sides. This is essentially a movie about grown-ups being kids, with the cast creating the dynamic of a typical school yard group. There’s even the girl left out of the game, Hoagie’s wife Anna (Isla Fisher), who is hot-tempered when it comes to competition and scares the daylights out of Randy (“you’re too intense!”). But everyone feels like a real, tight group with different personalities. Hamm is the more serious of the bunch, Ed Helms is the obsessive, Jake Johnson is a great, stoned out Randy, and Hannibal Buress’s Sable is a total, aloof riot, prone to random observations and comments (“time is a construct”). Jeremy Renner is cool and self-assured, like the person in every group who gets by with charisma. His fiancé, Susan, is played by Leslie Bibb as a party pooper and nervous wreck, keeping an eye on the group to make sure they don’t ruin her special day. Because everyone plays it straight the premise works. If the actors had gone for an Adam Sandler touch then the whole movie would just feel too ludicrous. The ending scene in a hospital is actually quite joyous and fun, as an epic game of tag develops in hallways and waiting rooms.

Jeff Tomsic’s master stroke at the end is to close with real footage of the real guys. The actual group was indeed profiled by the Wall Street Journal on their 30-year tag game. Even more astounding, some of the slapstick material from the film is based on actual fact. There goes the real Hoagie in an old granny costume, body slamming his buddy in public. Sometimes the footage gets wilder than the dramatized movie, especially one clip where someone is caught while showering. It was a great move to include actual footage of the real subjects because it elevates what we saw before. The promos are not leading you on, this is all inspired by a true story.

“Tag” isn’t perfect, there are some story elements that are unnecessary, like an old middle school flame played by Rashida Jones who appears once or twice without any real consequence. But as a comedic experience this is a fun time. After the credits roll you might even be inspired to go tag someone.

Tag” releases June 15 in theaters nationwide.