[Screen It]

"TAG"
(2018) (Ed Helms, Jon Hamm) (R)


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QUICK TAKE:
Comedy: Four friends who've been playing the game of Tag every May for the past thirty years try to tag a fifth friend who's managed to remain untouched over all of that time.
PLOT:
For the past thirty years five friends -- Hogan "Hoagie" Malloy (ED HELMS), Bob Callahan (JON HAMM), Randy "Chilli" Cilliano (JAKE JOHNSON), Kevin Sable (HANNIBAL BURESS), and Jerry Pierce (JEREMY RENNER) -- have been playing the same game of tag every May that they started while in the fifth grade. Whoever is last tagged before June 1st remains "it" until the following May, and this year Hoagie is feel increased pressure for any of them to finally tag Jerry who's managed to remain untouched through the history of their game.

Knowing he's getting married to Susan Rollins (LESLIE BIBB) in May, and believing he's then going to drop out of the game, Hoagie rounds up his friends and they set off -- along with Hoagie's equally enthusiastic wife, Anna (ISLA FISHER), and Wall Street Journal reporter Rebecca Crosby (ANNABELLE WALLIS) -- to crash Jerry's wedding and finally tag him. But their friend and game adversary has anticipated their every move, ranging from making sure local bartender Lou Seibert (STEVE BERG) doesn't give up his location, to inviting Bob and Chilli's former childhood and then high school flame, Cheryl Deakins (RASHIDA JONES), to the rehearsal dinner to distract them.

With time running out, the four friends pull out all the stops as they attempt to tag their seemingly untouchable friend before time runs out on them.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
When it comes to getting scripts to turn into movies, Hollywood studios use both those outside and inside their system. And whether it's a freelance writer pitching studio folks or some studio honcho informing writers under his or her employ of the latest, greatest idea they've come up with, the responses can vary from "that's the dumbest thing I've ever heard" to "That's brilliant, we're gonna make a gazillion dollars." Not surprisingly, that can be about the exact same pitch.

That easily could have the reaction (or reactions) to the pitch for what ultimately became the comedy movie "Tag." After all, the notion of a group of adult men still playing the same game of tag three decades after starting it as kids, and trying to finally tag their one friend who's managed to remain elusive over all of that time might sound stupid and lame or inspired and funny.

Then I can imagine the follow-up: "But (or 'And') it's based on a true story of a group of friends who are still doing just that." That would be followed by "Really?" or "Uh-huh," and then the selling point: "And they've been featured in both The Wall Street Journal" and on "CBS Sunday Morning." The result? "You're it. Now get working on that script."

I sort of recall the TV segment on them, but not to any sort of writer's excitement of suddenly finding a golden idea. Yet, that's what various Hollywood producers thought, with one eventually acquiring the rights to the tale, followed by scribes Rob McKittrick and Mark Steilen crafting the script into the 100-some minute movie we have today.

The result is a comedic offering that, notwithstanding some slow moments here and there, works better than one might imagine considering the very basic, and either very brilliant and inspired or very dumb and silly idea. The gist is this: Five friends -- Hoagie (Ed Helms), Bob (Jon Hamm), Chilli (Jake Johnson), Kevin (Hannibal Buress) and Jerry (Jeremy Renner) -- started playing the game in fifth grade and haven't let up since, albeit they only play in the month of May. Whoever is unlucky to be tagged last at the end of the month remains "it" for the rest of the year and into the next.

The twist is that one of them -- Renner's Jerry -- has never been "it" at any point of any year of the three-decades-old game. And word is that he's going to retire after this year, possibly because he's getting married to Susan (Leslie Bibb). Although marriage hasn't seemed to slow down the enthusiasm and this year's urgency exhibited by Helms' Hoagie whose wife, Anna (Isla Fisher) is as juiced up for the game as any of the guys, even if she's not technically allowed to play, what with not having been one of the original five players.

Despite their years of failure, those who've repeatedly been "it" haven't given up on their quest to tag Jerry, and sometimes go to elaborate measures to try to make that happen. The film's best moments are right when they're trying to pull those off and director Jeff Tomsic utilizes both voice-over narration to let us hear their inner thoughts and strategies as well as slow-motion footage to capture the failed attempts and Jerry's cat-like reflexes and defensive strategies in all of their glory.

Yes, it's silly and dumb stuff, but the point -- not so subtly delivered as the film's mantra and message -- is that one doesn't stop playing games because they get old, they get old because they stop playing games. That's probably true and all of them act like kids at heart, although some of their motivation is simply to use the game to stay connected to their childhood friends rather than let them slip away due to maturation, the passage of time, and physical distance that often strains or wipes out such bonds.

Accordingly, there are some poignant moments, but they're decently interspersed and otherwise don't get in the way of the slapstick material and general (and sometimes fairly inspired) goofiness of men behaving like kids. Perhaps that's a message for all of us to take more time to play rather than being stiff, no-nonsense adults. There, I just tagged you with that directive for you to pass on to another person and so on. Nothing great, but fairly entertaining considering the premise, "Tag" rates as a 6 out of 10.




Reviewed June 11, 2018 / Posted June 15, 2018


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