A Crazy, Preposterously True Tale of Fun & Friendship
Starring Ed Helms, Jon Hamm, Jeremy Renner, Jake Johnson & Hannibal Buress
Directed by Jeff Tomsic
In theaters June 15, 2018
If you sometimes feel like Hollywood just makes the same movie over and over, well, here’s one for you.
Tag is so unusual, so unique, so stupidly crazy, it’s practically a guarantee that you’ve never seen anything like it.
Unless, perhaps, you’re one of the people it’s about—or you remember the newspaper piece, a few years ago, that inspired it.
As wild and nutty and preposterous as it seems, Tag is based on a group of friends from Washington state who bonded over the childhood chase game in the 1980s and kept playing it, three decades after they graduated high school.
The movie takes shape around a business interview by a Wall Street Journal reporter (British actress Annabelle Wallis) of Fortune 500 CEO Bob Callahan (Jon Hamm), just before he gets “tagged” by Hogan “Hoagie” Malloy (Ed Helms). The reporter becomes so intrigued, she scraps her original piece and decides to do her story instead on these grown men and their all-consuming obsession with the game, which kicks into “play” every year during the month of May.
(The movie is based on the actual story in the Wall Street Journal, “It Takes Planning, Caution to Avoid Being It,” by Russell Adams, published in 2013. Stick around for the credits to meet the real people and see just how closely the movie captures their experiences.)
Callahan and Hoagie assemble their fellow players, the doper “Chilli” Cilliano (Jake Johnson, from TV’s New Girl) and laid-back Sable (comedian-actor Hannibal Buress), to go after the elusive Jerry (Jeremy Renner), a master of the game who has never been tagged “it.”
Jerry is getting married, and rumor has it he’s retiring from the game after this “season,” going out in a blaze of glory. His fellow players can’t let that happen—not without tagging him at least once.
They have a plan: ambush Jerry at his wedding. But first they have to locate him…
Director Jeff Tomsic, a TV veteran whose resume includes several stand-up comedy specials and episodes of Broad City, Idiotsitter and The Detour, keeps things lively with frisky banter and comedic-action scenes that show the extremes to which the characters go to get the jump on each other—costumes and disguises; breaking and entering; interrupting business sessions, funerals, medical procedures and AA meetings.
One especially funny sequence, with Thomas Middleditch (from TV’s Silicon Valley) as an employee of Jerry’s, reveals a line they won’t cross, however. “We’re not doing that,” says Callahan. “That’s a war crime.”
The group, we learn, even has a customized, handwritten book of rules and bylaws. (I wouldn’t be surprised to learn the book we see in the movie is the real book from the real-life group.)
A sly bit of meta-casting features the venerable Brian Dennehy, whose resume includes more than 175 roles, including his recent stints on TV’s The Blacklist and in the film The Seagull with Saoirse Ronan. In Tag, he has a brief scene as Chili’s pot-smoking, philosophizing father. It may seem like a lark, a throwaway role—until you realize that the actor shares his name with one of the real characters on which the film is based.
Isla Fisher plays Hoagie’s excitable wife, Anna, itching to get in on the action, but prohibited by the game’s boys-only rule. Rashida Jones is Cheryl Deakins, a childhood crush who reappears as a grownup, wowing Chilli and Callahan—and questioning why in the world they’re still playing a silly game from adolescence.
Jones’ character is eventually charmed by their antics. And you probably will be, too, especially as the movie races to a heartwarming finale, wrapped up in a bigger theme of friendship, comradery and fun without an expiration date. “We don’t stop playing because we grow old,” says Hoagie. “We grow old because we stop playing.”
It’s a cheery message we all need to hear: Long may we run—and oh, by the way, you’re it!