Review: 'Tag' Often Stumbles, but a Brilliant Cast Saves the Day

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(Photo: Warner Bros. Pictures)

"We don't stop playing because we grow old, we grow old because we stop playing." This is the mantra of the main characters in Tag, who have been playing the same childish game for 30 years straight, but it also works as a metaphor for the film itself. If you try to think too much about what's going on, or you take things too seriously, you'll have a hard time enjoying Tag.

However, if you just let loose, if you just keep playing, as it were, Tag is full of all the fun and laughs you could ask for. Sometimes we need movies like that in our lives, and Tag fills that spot on the box office roster admirably.

Based on an a true story, Tag stars Ed Helms, Jon Hamm, Jake Johnson, Hannibal Buress, and Jeremy Renner as childhood friends who have been playing the same game of tag for 30 years straight. Each and every May, the game is on, and the friends pull off elaborate schemes and cross state lines to try and tag one another. This includes showing up at funerals, crashing important business meetings, and even dressing up like elderly women to sneak up on another player.

One of the five friends, Jerry (Renner), has never been "it" at any point during the 30-year game. He consistently eludes his buddies to the point where they really don't even see him all that often. The movie begins towards the end of a tag season, when Hoagie (Helms) informs Callahan (Hamm) that Jerry is going to retire at the end of the month, and that his upcoming wedding is the last time the group will ever be able to tag him. The remaining four players are joined by Hoagie's wife Anna (Isla Fisher), and a Wall Street Journal reporter named Rebecca (Annabelle Wallis), who is writing a story on their long-running game, as they make one last-ditch effort to tag Jerry before he's out for good.

As you can probably guess, this all-star ensemble is far and away the strongest aspect of the film. Helms and Hamm have already proven to be strong comedic leads, and they both perform well in their roles. Like Hamm's role in Bridesmaids a few years back, Tag acts as sort of a comedic coming-out party for Renner, who, aside from a few wisecracks in the Avengers films, is usually a stone-faced badass. He holds his own amongst a group of veteran comedians, which is no easy feat.

The "headlining" cast is certainly good, but it's the supporters that really make the film stand out. Just as she did in Wedding Crashers, Fisher plays an over-the-top character whose energy is absolutely electric, and she steals multiple scenes with her brash and unexpected antics. Johnson, as we've come to expect from his years on New Girl, is sitting on the cusp of becoming a comedic star. His role as the burnout of the group, Chilli, doesn't exactly give him a lot to work with, but Johnson consistently proves he can extract a laugh from just about any material. Buress displays an absolute mastery of comedic timing, as he often does, and it's a wonder why it's taken so long for him to get a substantial role in a film like this.

The one disappointment in the cast comes from Wallis, a usually dramatic performer trying her hand at comedy. It's not that Wallis isn't fantastic in the film, it's actually quite the opposite; she delivers every line wonderfully. Her timing is much better than you might expect from someone who's spent years in serious projects like Peaky Blinders and The Mummy. The problem isn't her talent. She's got loads of that and then some. The problem is that she's COMPLETELY underutilized. The first act of the film sets Rebecca up as a major part of this story but, as the plot unfolds, it's as if she's completely forgotten, and only shows up when someone on set would speak up and say, "Hey, isn't Annabelle Wallis supposed to be in this scene?"

Not only is Wallis' talent misused, but the entire character of Rebecca fells completely cast aside by the end of the film. Considering that an entire subplot revolves around the idea that she's writing a story about these guys, it makes so little sense to watch her fall by the wayside.

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Given the talent of the cast, it would be hard for Tag not to be funny, no matter the material. And most of the time, the script itself gives them dialogue and jokes worthy of their abilities. That said, perhaps this film's biggest flaw is it's lack of creativity when it comes to consistently executing punch-lines. There are a few that are downright hilarious. But more often than not, a great set-up leads to yet another male character referencing his buddy's junk. Seriously, there are at least a dozen jokes that end with some variation of this tired trope. Look, I get it, there are times this can actually be funny. Earlier this year, Blockers proved that a genitalia-inspired gag, used sparingly and delivered at the right time, can be absolutely hysterical. In Tag, it's just used as a fallback when no one had any other ideas as to what five grown men playing a child's game could possibly have to talk about.

While these jokes can be exhausting, and occur entirely too often, Tag manages to surround them with enough heart and humor that it's easy to still have a great time. It's not the best movie of the year, but no one really expects it to be. Tag wants to make you laugh, it wants to make you remember how good life can be, and it's flawless at doing just that.