Who knew a movie about a children’s game could be so much fun?!
Think about it: You run around attempting to tag the other participants. It seems so simple, so how could anybody take a game like that and turn into an almost two-hour feature film? Well, it’s the real-life story behind this game that proved to be “movie-worthy.”
Led by Jeff Tomsic, which happens to be his directorial debut, this all-star cast includes: Jeremy Renner, Ed Helms, Jon Hamm, Hannibal Buress, Jake Johnson, Isla Fisher, Annabelle Wallis, Leslie Bibb and Rashida Jones. Together, they tell the story of a group of friends who have been playing the same game of tag for almost 30 years.
Art Imitates Life
The concept itself just sounds intriguing: A group of grown men playing a game of cross-country tag. And it’s based on a true story. In a film landscape filled with superhero films, sequels, remakes, reboots, and prequels, more grounded “based on true events” stories like these are a welcomed breath of fresh air.
The film marketing sold it as a comedy. Why wouldn’t it? With the comedic talents of Jake Johnson, Ed Helms, and Hannibal Buress involved, comedy is definitely the main strength of the story. However, while the film is absolutely hysterical, it also has a surprising amount of heart and emotion.
This is a very touching and heartwarming story about a group of friends who play the same game of tag every year during the month of May–for the past 30 years. Hoagie (Ed Helms) reunites the gang for one last round because their friend Jerry (Jeremy Renner) is retiring from the game and getting married. Jerry has never been tagged in 30 years and this will be the group’s last chance to tag him.
This takes the group of friends–Hogan “Hoagie” Malloy, Bob Callahan (Jon Hamm), Randy “Chilli” Cilliano (Jake Johnson), and Kevin Sable (Hannibal Buress) back to their hometown in Spokane, Washington to try and tag Jerry during his wedding weekend. The group has numerous attempts to tag Jerry that end in hilarious, and often times, humiliating failures.
Life Imitates Art (Kinda)
One thing the film does that is both unique and hilarious is how overly exaggerated they portray Jerry’s ability to avoid being tagged. Whenever anybody is close to tagging him, we get a “Sherlock-Holmes”-esque breakdown from Jerry himself as he analyzes every possible situation, any unfamiliar environment, and calls out exactly what he’s going to do before doing it.
(Think Robert Downey Jr. in Sherlock Holmes and Denzel Washington in The Equalizer, but funnier and far more exaggerated.)
However, it’s how the other characters view Jerry when it comes to this game. They convinced themselves he is this all-world, Olympic-level tag athlete. Three decades of Jerry avoiding being tagged has taken a significant mental toll on this group of friends. It does make for some truly hilarious, slo-mo action scenes though (like the donuts above).
As the movie progresses, it becomes incredibly evident that rules do not apply in this game. The group of friends try everything to tag Jerry including:
- Cancelling (it was fake) the wedding reception venue to draw Jerry outside
- Attacking Jerry at his AA meeting
- Waterboarding (only halfway) one of Jerry’s employees for information
Jerry knows how to play dirty so he enlists the help of his fiancée to fake being pregnant and then fakes a miscarriage to help Jerry avoid being tagged.
Okay, so you’re probably saying to yourself, “A heartwarming story? So far, it just sounds like an over the top, raunchy comedy.” I assure you, while the film is most definitely raunchy and hilarious, there is a twist at the end that could warm even the coldest of hearts.
At the end of the film, Jerry is kissing his new bride at the end of the wedding ceremony, when Hoagie lunges to tag him. Of course he misses and is laying unconscious near the altar. Following the collapse, we discover Hoagie didn’t trip. He has a large tumor on his liver and probably wouldn’t be around to play tag the following year. Hoagie made up the story about Jerry retiring so he could get everyone together for one last round.
It was a twist nobody saw coming, especially not me. It’s not often when a huge emotional element like that is dropped into a movie during the final act. A twist like that is even more heartbreaking when 99% of the movie was spent making us laugh. The writers gave us no hints or clues this was coming. However, while the placement of the twist was shocking, the twist itself injected an incredible amount of emotion into the story.
The emotion comes courtesy of the cast, each do a brilliant job telling this story on film. The chemistry among the main cast is what truly holds this film together. Helms, Hamm, Johnson, and Burress share a ton of screen time together. And if we didn’t know any better, it would be easy to assume these guys are good friends in real life. They’re all able to bounce jokes off each other with effortless delivery like they acted together a hundred times before.
The actors’ ability to convince the audience this really is a close-knit group of friends also made that emotional twist at the end of the film more impactful. As someone just watching the film, you could really feel the weight of that moment. It was a tragic reveal; yet, a touching moment. There was sadness, but also a lot of sentiment.
Although this group of friends plays cruel pranks and say mean-spirited things toward each other (and take Tag way too seriously), they love each other like family.
As Hoagie says, “Tag isn’t about running away from each other; it’s about bringing us closer together.”
Getting This Under “Over”
I believe this film did not–and has not–gotten the recognition it deserves.
Tag was truly one of the biggest surprise films of 2018, and honestly, I haven’t been pleasantly surprised by a film like I was with this movie in a long time. A lot of comedy movies come to the big screen nowadays. While still funny, most of them are “one-note” films. They aim to make us laugh by any means necessary and nothing more. Tag brings laughter with ease while still giving us an intriguing and emotional story.
It takes an amazing and touching true story and adapts it in a way to provide the upmost respect to the events and people the movie was based upon. The cast all deliver in spades, the pacing is fantastic, the jokes all hit their targets, and the writing masterfully blends (sometimes) raunchy humor with genuine human emotion.
This isn’t your average comedy film. And whether you’ve seen it once and didn’t like it or you haven’t seen it at all, I’m telling you now that you are doing yourself a disservice by not giving it a chance (or second chance).
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