Tag opens with that dreaded phrase, “Inspired by true events.” In this case, those words can be translated as, roughly, “We found this article in the Wall Street Journal that sounded like a great premise for yet another one of those dim-witted bromance comedies you’ve already seen far too many of.”
The article was by Russell K. Adams, about 10 buddies who had a running game of tag all through high school, then reinstated the game at a 1990 reunion and have been doing it for one month out of every year since.
For the movie, writers Rob McKittrick and Mark Steilen reduce the players to three stock figures and two clichés. The stock figures are dentist Hogan “Hoagie” Malloy (Ed Helms), insurance tycoon Bob Callahan (Jon Hamm), and the hotshot buddy who’s never been tagged, Jerry Pierce (Jeremy Renner). The clichés are the obligatory pot-smoking slacker Randy “Chilli” Cilliano (Jake Johnson) and what can only be called the token African-American buddy, Kevin Sable (Hannibal Buress). Rounding out the cast are Wall Street Journal reporter Rebecca Crosby (Annabelle Wallis), changing Russell Adams to a gorgeous blonde who does nothing but watch the guys play—another cliché; Hoagie’s wife Anna (Isla Fisher), a spitfire as committed to the game as any of the boys; and Jerry’s fiancée Susan (Leslie Bibb), perkily determined that the game is not to interfere with her wedding day.
The movie opens at the beginning of May, “Tag Month.” Hoagie sneaks into Bob’s workplace to tag him, then tells him—and later Chilli and Sable—that Jerry is getting married this month in their hometown of Spokane, and they’re not invited to the wedding. Worse, Jerry intends to retire from the game; since he’s the only one who’s never been tagged, Hoagie insists that they crash the wedding and tag Jerry once and for all. From there, the movie degenerates into increasingly contrived and over-the-top stunts, with “it” moves from player to player (but never to Jerry), culminating at last in a health crisis for one character (yet another cliché) and that crowning cliché of such movies, the I-love-you-guys group hug.
Director Jeff Tomsic grapples desperately with the script’s lurching from violent pseudo-slapstick farce to buddy-buddy sentiment to slow-motion, action-movie-style set pieces, but he never manages to establish a consistent tone; he just deals with moments as they come, regardless of what came before or what follows. Probably not even Steven Spielberg could have pulled it off, but Tomsic doesn’t seem to try.
Ironically, under the closing credits, smartphone video shows the real-life players of this floating tag game having the kind of fun that Tomsic, McKittrick and Steilen labor so clumsily to re-create, giving a glimpse of the movie Tag might have been.
Helms, Hamm, Renner et al. do the best they can with the cornball script and under Tomsic’s flailing direction. The problem with Tag isn’t the pros in front of the camera; it’s the amateurs behind it.