For one month every year, five school buddies – Hamm, Helms, Johnson, Renner and LilRel Howery – have engaged in a game of tag. And it’s a no-holds-barred-anything-goes game of tag. Renner is the only one who hasn’t been tagged in thirty years, avoiding being ‘it’ with cunning, violence and, eh, violence. But this year is different: Renner is getting married so they know where he’s going to be and when. Game on…
… Pause game. Tag, based on a Wall Street Journal article that followed professional men engaging in a child’s game, has a fun if silly High Concept idea. And the first fifteen minutes follow through on this with doctor Helms going as far as applying for a janitor’s job in Hamm’s building just so he can catch his buddy unawares (during an interview with Wall Street reporter Annabelle Wallis, who then follows the gang and gets the rules explained to her). Stoner Jake Johnson, startling him while sharing a bong with dad Brian Dennehy (Yep, Brian Dennehy is an ageing stoner - how do you get Brian Dennehy to play an ageing stoner and not make it funny?), before they rope in Howery and make for their hometown for Renner’s wedding.
And that’s where the story falls apart. One of the reasons for the implosion is it ignores the rules of the game it spent the last fifteen minutes setting up. Tag, as I understand it, and as the story pitches it, is a game of touch: one person is ‘it’ until they touch another and they are ‘it’. And so on. So how this ganging up element comes into play isn’t explained like it should, despite Wallis as the obvious plot construct, there to ask questions the audience needs to know.
Writers Mark Steilan and Rob McKittrick have little in the drawer beyond the set-up. With Renner able to avoid them at will with Bourne-like efficiency (actually it’s a Guy Ritchie-Sherlock Holmes efficiency of being able to see what’s happening before it does) the story then gets bogged down in dull subplots that attempt to bust up the bonhomie of the gang. Helm’s wife Fisher is along for the ride to shout instructions. And there’s Rashida Jones.
Jones is an old flame of both Hamm and Johnson and the two guys set about old rivalries to compete for her heart. Only that doesn’t develop either and the story spends the last hour just bouncing around, revelling in nostalgia and some stoner gags (none of them involving Brian Dennehy).
The forever young theme - we only get old because we forget how to play - is a nice thought, but with little at stake, no momentum, a high number of miscarriage jokes for a mainstream comedy, a lot of shouting (a lot of shouting), and scenes that just exist for the admittedly game actors to ad-lib, Tag just ambles along until the credits finally roll.