Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Tag Is It, With It Being "A Middle-of-The-Road Comedy"

For over 30 years, five childhood friends have managed to stick around in each other's lives thanks to engaging in an expansive game of Tag that takes place every single May. Once that month starts, all bets are off and this group of guys never know when one of their best buds will show up out of nowhere to declare that they're "it". The five friends are Hogan (Ed Helms), stoner Randy, paranoid Kevin (Hannibal Buress), cocky businessman Bob and the king of this tag game, health nut Jerry (Jeremy Renner). Jerry has never been "it", not even once, but Hogan is getting the other three guys together with the intent of finally making sure Jerry gets tagged just once.

All of this is loosely inspired by a true story, something the viewer is constantly reminded of by the presence of Wall Street journalist Rebecca Crosby (Annabelle Wallis), who follows these five around and chronicles their exploits. Despite an in-movie character designed explicitly to remind the viewer that this is based on reality, the end credits showing the real much older and much larger in numbers group of friends who actually did this extensive game of tag make it clear that the movie Tag basically just took the concept of grown-ups playing tag and made their own story out of it. That's not a bad thing on its own, but what is more problematic is that the new story they've come up with tends to be pretty middling. 

At least screenwriters Rob McKittrick and Mark Steilen have decided to tell said new story in a manner that places a sincere emphasis on the virtues of maintaining long-term friendships, Tag is totally 110% committed to the idea of friendship being awesome and that does result in some successfully sweet moments. On the other hand, the comedy is more scattershot in terms of success, though this is actually less due to the writing and more of the casting. Tag has some truly lazy casting that sticks the majority of its lead actors in the types of roles they've played far too often, a move that ends up undercutting the potential for inventive comedy.

Of course Jake Johnson is playing the asshole stoner, of course Jon Hamm is playing a cocky rich guy, of course Jeremy Renner, the cast member most famous for playing a superhero, is playing a man with super-human reflexes. The only person who manages to work well in just inhabiting the archetype he typically plays is Hannibal Buress and that's because Buress is hilarious enough in the role to justify such casting, the guy has an incredible gift for comedic timing that results in some of the funniest lines of the movie. But the other four leads are just stuck playing the type of characters we've seen them play too many times before and it robs the chance of their characters in Tag from becoming their own people.

What if Jon Hamm was playing the stoner here? What if Ed Helms was the guy with super-human reflexes? Playing against type could have resulted in some interesting comedy and I can't imagine such performances would be much worse than the generic turns seen here that end up robbing Tag of a lot of its comedy. The lazier casting in the leads doesn't suck all the laughs out of the room, supporting actors like the aforementioned Buress and Isla Fisher manage to score some yuks and some of director Jeff Tomsic's directing here does show flashes of personality that got a chuckle or two out of me, good on him for not just settling on a stagnant visual style like so many modern American comedies do. 

But the predictable casting in the lead roles does end up being a key example of the vapid nature of Tag that keeps it from being as unique as a movie about grown men playing a game of tag to comedic results should be. It should be noted too that it isn't just the casting that makes it hard to get invested in the lead characters, as, among other problems, some meandering subplots like a romantic rivalry between Hamm and Johnson's characters that fades in and out of the film also hinder the audience from making a connection with the leads of Tag. When you can't get invested in the players, it's hard to become absorbed in the game and that's probably the biggest reason why Tag ends up being so middle-of-the-road. 

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