I think someone just wanted to see Jeremy Renner do parkour.
The premise of Tag is of five grown men who have been playing the same game of Tag for thirty years, despite having jobs and lives of their own. One of them though, has never been tagged. Moreover, it is “inspired” by true events.
Honestly, there isn’t much to expect or write home about. The trailer did its job in selling some slapstick physical comedy with an unorthodox but relatable premise; what if a group of friends continued playing Tag long into their adult years. There is merit in the madness, to see grown ups still enjoying childhood games and not become enslaved to the requirements and obligations life forces on them.
Debut director Jeff Tomsic is more known for small screen productions, and there is a reasonably small scale casting too: Ed Helms (The Hangover) leads the pack of Taggers as Hogan, Isla Fisher plays his wife Anna, Jon Hamm is Robert, the business CEO, Jake Johnson as their stoner friend Randy and Hannibal Buress as Kevin, who you may recognise from small parts in several big movies (Bad Neighbours and The Disaster Artist). Of course, the film capitalizes on its resident Avenger, Jeremy Renner as Jerry, the kid who was never caught.
This is perhaps the best angle the film has. On one side we have several men who have no athletic ability at all, playing Tag with someone who has spent the greater part of his life acting in extremely physical roles. The film delays introducing Renner’s character for this one contrasting effect. They even go full gimmick with it, introducing a Downey Jr’s Sherlock Holmes “inner thoughts”/”slow-motion combat” cinematography to represent Jerry’s near-superhuman reflexes and skills. It is pretty funny! Renner certainly can do smug.
Certainly, the film’s Tag sequences are enjoyably silly. One taking place in a mall, another in a church and another on a golf course. Just imagine a game of Tag where the players take it far too seriously. There was one moment that might have been too extreme… Pretty sure someone would have died. But overall these sequences, especially the ones involving any plan to trap the elusive Jeremy Renner, are pretty great and well edited.
A lot of the comedy comes from these sequences, although more from the editing trickery and cut-away gags (which feature more heavily at the start of the film).
The actual script writing of the film however…
It leaves a little to be desired. There are sequences that simply didn’t do much for me. Hamm and Johnson have a love triangle with Rashida Jones’s character Cheryl, which asides from being a clever escape ploy of Jerry’s, doesn’t really go anywhere, in terms of laughs or drama. Multiple scenes with the guys’ barman friend and Tag game wannabe just fell flat and didn’t evolve into any sort of comedic payoff.
The film toys with the idea of maturity versus play, and the things we can lose if we forget to play… but it ends up feeling wildly inconsistent in tone. While the game is fun to watch and full of self-awareness, the third act of the film gets up-ended by a surprise emotional twist to proceedings. Which wasn’t unwelcome, it gave a more nuanced sense of joy to the characters’ relationships… but with ninety percent of the film being slapstick comedy, it felt quite left-field tonally.
Annabelle Wallis’s character of Rebecca, a reporter who is whisked into following the game (tying directly into the real life Wall Street Journal article that inspired the film) isn’t given a whole lot to do, even as an outsider and perhaps an audience surrogate. Some of the heart of the matter could have been expanded through her perspective.
It is a good distraction, but it didn’t feel as laugh-out-loud funny as it could have been, or as emotionally resonant as it could have been. Jeremy Renner and his superhuman abilities contrasting with the regular guys is exactly what you have paid to see.