Based on a 2013 story written in The Wall Street Journal about a group of friends who’ve played the same game of tag for over 20 years, Tag never escapes its general premise. Since this is a Hollywood movie, all the friends are relatively handsome, well-off dudes: happy-go-lucky Hogan (Ed Helms), rich businessman Bob (Jon Hamm), divorced stoner-bro Chilli (Jake Johnson) and Hannibal Buress’s Kevin (who doesn’t get nearly as much to do as the rest of the cast). Along with Hogan’s wife (Isla Fisher) and a reporter (Annabelle Wallis), the gang attends the wedding of their other buddy Jerry (Jeremy Renner), who wants to retire from the game forever despite never being tagged. With that, “hijinks” ensue.
I put “hijinks” in quotes because despite having a strong cast of people who are either foremost comedians or have shown comedic chops in other projects before, Tag is as flavorless and limp as a soggy chip at the bottom of a plate of nachos. Written by Mark Steilen (Shameless, Mozart in the Jungle) and Rob McKittrick (Waiting…), Tag is mostly rooted in physical comedy with the characters running around trying to catch Jerry. Aside from a bit or two here or there that garners a chuckle, there’s nothing surprising or clever in the setups or punchlines in the movie. The main gimmick is that the gang tries to catch Jerry off-guard while he’s preparing for his wedding, but Jerry is three steps ahead of his buddies and plans traps including a trick set that replicates Hogan’s childhood bedroom, decoys of himself and a swinging log that knocks Chilli several feet into the air because……Jerry’s actually a Navy SEAL?
It wouldn’t be surprising to learn that Jeremy Renner only agreed to do this movie if he could do his training regimen for Hawkeye while shooting scenes (hopefully Thanos erased the four lead characters from existence too). Since the physical comedy is mostly a dud, the movie’s hope would be to lean on dialogue but there’s nothing original or consistent about the jokes in the movie leading to comedic dead air. It’s mostly reactionary humor and speedy dialogue that starts and stops to seemingly move past its weak punchlines. There’s even one “joke” at the end of the third act that I won’t spoil, mostly because it’s horrible and shocking and crude for the sake of trying to out-crude other comedies. Director Jeff Tomsic (The Detour, Idiotsitter) is not incompetent as the movie is shot well enough and doesn’t have any poor construction, but he clearly wasn’t given too much to work with and therefore had nothing to offer an audience.
Not to mention his actors, who seem either bored or lost in this. Though a movie this bland and saccharine is a perfect fit for the “boy howdy” face and demeanor of Helms, who is the lead actor of this movie despite having little to no charisma or screen presence. The sadness in Hamm’s eyes is more evident as the movie goes on despite his ever-charming smile and personality trying to hide it. In fact, one of the few funny moments in the movie involves Hamm getting a chair thrown back in his face. That (partially) works because Hamm’s sharp-dressed presence is always at its best when his beauty is the butt of the joke. Johnson’s comedy is limited to looking like he hasn’t showered in days, smoking weed and being insensitive, basically the contestant on Survivor who would be voted off first. And the movie puts emphasis on the “smoking weed” part but having Johnson hold a joint in his hand in 95% of his scenes in the movie, as if it shoots out of his knuckles like Wolverine’s claws.
Renner is only here for a paycheck in between Avengers movies and treats Tag as such, but at least he doesn’t look miserable. In fact, someone online should re-edit his scenes in the movie to make it look like a thriller and he’s some stranger out to terrorize these civilized people like Dan Stevens in The Guest. The ones with the shortest ends of the stick are the women. Fisher and Wallis, along with Rashida Jones and Leslie Bibb who are bonafide cameos given their impact and screen time, are either forcing their way through the boys club to make a presence (Fisher) or seem so bored with the material that they don’t even try (that’s Wallis). Fisher seems like the biggest waste, given the energy she brings to her brief scenes and her well-known experience in handling buddy comedies. The only one who brings any consistent comedy to this is Buress, who doesn’t deliver lines so much as observations of how stupid everything is.
Tag is as unfunny as a bad Happy Madison movie but without the Happy Madison effort of advertising products and being extremely lowbrow. It just….exists, willed to life by some cosmic force and content to sit without effort towards anything else. It’s not funny, it’s not exciting, it’s not entertaining, and yet it’s nothing to get mad over. Why put forth all the effort of being furious over a boring comedy if said comedy didn’t put any effort of its own?