Movie Leftovers: Tag.
This week’s leftover movie is the comedy Tag, perhaps the least fun I’ve experienced during a game of tag in my life.
In the spirit of Thanksgiving, we empty our fridge of Movie Leftovers – films we missed reviewing before they left theaters. The end of the year fast approaches, and Thanksgiving is just around the corner. Having stocked up on recent movies, we decided it was time to clear our plates. This month we’re going to devote to all of the films of 2018 that caught our eye – for good or ill – but that we didn’t get a chance to review during their theatrical runs. Since we’ll soon be picking the best and worst films of the year, it’s high time we checked off some of the entries on our Most and Least anticipated films of the year lists.
Tag really had my hopes up, releasing a trailer that promised childish antics, broad humor, and a solid ensemble cast. Unfortunately director Jeff Tomsic crafted a mean-spirited affair with forgettable characters and nearly no charm.
Five friends have been playing the same game of tag for their entire lives. Every May, the game resumes and the participants travel across the country to surprise their friends with a well placed “tag, you’re it!” This year the stakes are at their highest: Jerry (Jeremy Renner) is getting married and will no longer be able to play the game. Jerry is also the only player never to be “it”, using his devious mind and athletic physique to avoid being tagged ever since he was a kid. Hogan (Ed Helms) wants to pull all the stops to make sure this year Jerry gets tagged, no matter the cost.
Ugly and Crass.
Tomsic seems to have taken all of the wrong lessons from watching Judd Apatow work. Sure, Apatow’s films are crude and juvenile, and his characters are fairly one dimensional. They’re also written to be funny, with clever dialogue. Tomsic’s characters are all flimsy costumes with nobody inside. One guy is a pot head. You can tell because he always has a joint in his mouth. Another is a businessman. You can tell because he’s in a business suit at all times. One character is a brassy firecracker. You can tell because she is never not shouting profanity. On and on and on. None of these characteristics, to be generous calling them that, ever lead to story or humor. They’re just the quickest way to say X is an X.
The humor in Tag, to be generous calling it that, is either inane pratfalls or excessive profanity. There’s no charm to it. These non-entities charge at each other like bulls trying to get a tag and then get splattered like bugs on a windshield. The one scene most closely approximating humorous has Ed Helms dress up like an old lady to get the drop on Renner…before just charging at him like a bull and getting splattered like a bug on a windshield. There’s very little time or care put into making this game of tag inventive, unique, or fun. Likewise, the dialogue is just inelegant insults and brain-dead groaners.
Lackluster staging or a clunky script can be overcome if the ensemble is right. There’s certainly enough talent here with Ed Helms, Hannibal Buress, John Hamm, and Lil Rel Howery. The problem is they have zero chemistry. They never seem to belong in a room together as characters, and never build off each other’s personas as comedians. Part of this is that the script does nothing with their characters as people. You could make a lot of hay with a control freak, a stuffy suit, a wasted pot head and a worry wart all somehow being good friends. This film doesn’t bother to.
Part of it has to do with nobody really having a persona to build off of. Only Hannibal Buress’ character seems to be consistent in his actions and motivations. I guess I could include Jeremy Renner, whose character is consistently an alpha asshole. Maybe nobody ever tags him because he is unbearable to be around?
The last fifteen minutes of the film deliver what has been missing throughout: warmth, charm, and fun. After the “plans” of the group fail, a simple heart-to-heart convinces Renner that getting tagged is half the fun of the game. This leads to the group playing the game as intended, having fun and not treating the game like a blood sport. You can see the carefree children they used to be, and the friends they were supposedly all along. Too bad it comes too little and way too late.
Another nail in the coffin comes from the credits montage showing the actual people this story is based on. They catch each other in funny ways without resorting to extreme physical stunts. They’re good-natured and inventive. One guy gets tagged while in the shower, and they both laugh like fools about it. You can see that they’re friends, they enjoy the game, and they put some thought into how to get a memorable tag. Why didn’t we get THAT movie?
Swing and a Miss.
Tag takes a goofy and sentimental story and wrecks it by making it into crude and senseless dumb comedy. What could have been touching and unique is tortured out of proportion to make the kind of tacky comedy Adam Sandler keeps putting his name on, and which Ed Helms is in danger of being type-cast into. A talented cast is squandered in the process. I wonder if the actual group of adult tag players got to see a screener for this film. They seem to enjoy a good joke; Tag is unfortunately bereft of them.