Movie Beat: Ed Helms, Jon Hamm excellent in strange, sweet “Tag”
by Jenniffer Wardell
Rated R for language throughout, crude sexual content, drug use and brief nudity
Screenplay by Rob McKittrick and Mark Steilen, screen story by Mark Steilen, based on the Wall Street Journal article by Russell Adams
Directed by Jeff Tomsic
Starring Ed Helms, Jon Hamm, Jeremy Renner, Isla Fisher, Annabelle Wallis, Jake Johnson, Hannibal Buress, Rashida Jones, Leslie Bibb and more
Grade: Two and a half stars
I’ve never seen a movie argue with itself as much as “Tag” does.
The comedy tries valiantly to be two different, contradictory genres at the same moment – a raunchy comedy and a heartwarming, Hallmark-like story of friendship. It’s to the movie’s credit that it almost manages to pull off both aspects, but watching them try to squeeze into the same movie screen at the same time sometimes created enough cognitive dissonance to make my brain hurt. The moments when the movie focused on one aspect or the other – comic mayhem or sweet friendship – were far more enjoyable to watch.
The movie, which was inspired by a Wall Street Journal article about a group of real people, follows a group of five childhood friends who stay close to each other by playing a national game of tag throughout the month of May. One friend had never been tagged in all their years of playing, and when he decides to retire the group gets together for one last attempt to tag him at his wedding. Unsurprisingly, things soon devolve into complete disaster.
I guessed the major plot twist before the movie even started, but in fairness to the movie the friend who came with me to the screening did not. The movie does offer careful hints sprinkled throughout, small and well-placed enough that it’s easy to miss them if you don’t know what you’re looking for.
Still, shocking plot twists are not the reason to watch the movie. One reason is the surprisingly good acting among the major cast, and the surprisingly endearing sense of brotherhood from all the players. Ed Helms and Jon Hamm were particularly sweet, Jake Johnson managed to be both ridiculous and endearing at the same moment, and Jeremy Renner managed to show flashes of sweetness beneath a deeply weird set of quirks. I was invested in their friendship, which is absolutely vital for a movie like this.
The other reason to watch the movie is, of course, the complete mayhem. For once the trailers slightly underplay the sheer ridiculousness of some of the chase sequences, which should indulge every desire you could possibly have for physical comedy. Also, it continues to ratchet up the absurdity, topping itself over and over again. Never tell yourself that there’s no way things can get more insane, because this movie doesn’t believe in such things.
The two halves of the movie never really mesh, and there’s a few deeply uncomfortable sequences where the movie sprints so far over the line they can no longer find it. Still, it manages to be surprisingly entertaining despite that, especially if you pick a favorite half and make sure you pay attention to all the relevant moments.
If you choose the absurd half, stay through the end credits. Just trust me on this.
(Photo © Warner Brothers)