Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, CCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
Possibly the most dreaded three words you hear as a child are “Tag! You’re it!” No one wants to be the “it” in that scenario. Being singled out as a grade-school pariah, or worse, getting taunted on the playground by peers is an embarrassment. It’s a game of skill and endurance to avoid the label. Yet, there’s something timelessly fascinating about this dichotomous juvenile activity – one that forces people apart, only to ultimately bring them together.
Inspired by a true story of one gang’s uproarious decades-long game, Director Jeff Tomsic’s TAG balances friendship, fidelity and frivolity in the most awesome, outrageous, action-packed bromance of the year. Camaraderie and comedy collide for heartfelt feature that harkens back to THE HANGOVER meets THE WORLD’S END.
Childhood friends Hogan “Hoagie” Malloy (Ed Helms), Randy “Chilli” Cilliano (Jake Johnson), Bob Callahan (Jon Hamm), Kevin Sable (Hannibal Buress) and Jerry Pierce (Jeremy Renner) have been locked in a three decade-spanning game of ultimate “boys only” tag. For one month out of every year, the men reunite from all across the States to tag and be tagged. Devious costumes, elaborate pranks and the element of surprise are their best weapons. All this time, though, only one member of the crew has managed to elude his friends’ touch: Jerry. He’s fit, nimble and always three steps ahead of his pals. However, Hoagie and Co. notice that their friendly adversary has a possible blind spot opening up soon – one that would leave him vulnerable at his own wedding. Since no location, or circumstance is technically off-limits, this is their chance to finally one up Jerry.
While there is genuine heart at the core of the screenplay by Rob McKittrick and Mark Steilen that honors the real life “Tag Brothers,” it’s abundantly clear that Tomsic’s strengths lie in the big action-driven set pieces. Not only does he keep the characters’ drive at the forefront (something not many modern action movies achieve), he both fully embraces and spoofs action sequences from cinematic inspirations with refreshing gusto. These are also the sequences where editor Josh Crockett, director of photography Larry Blanford and stunt co-ordinators Eric Linden and Jayson Dumenigo’s fantastic work feels tangibly vibrant and alive. From the Walter Hill-esque foot chase through Chilli’s apartment building, to the JASON BOURNE-like send-up that is Jerry’s introduction, to the Guy Ritchie-inspired stylization, each chase sequence is made aesthetically different – a feat in a studio comedy of its ilk. Plus the inherent comedy of the calamity caused by the childish tomfoolery is never lost within those serious stunts.
Marketing (specifically the film’s poster) notwithstanding, the filmmakers incorporate female roles whenever possible. Hoagie’s competitive wife Anna (Isla Fisher) is just as physically and mentally formidable, if not more, than the male players. Fisher rebuilds her typically “thankless wife” role, fashioning her into a scrappy, ferocious and capable spitfire. It’s also a small blessing to see the filmmakers gender-swap the role of the Wall Street Reporter, who wrote the most read article on which the film was based. It’s a rarity in a male-driven comedy like this to find filmmakers (and the studio behind it) who wouldn’t want to add more men into the mix. Though she’s not given a lot to do, Annabelle Wallis is a solid, noteworthy presence perhaps more for what she signifies versus character gravitas. Jerry’s fiancée Susan Rollins (Leslie Bibb) isn’t this genre’s traditional shrewish Bridezilla. She balances a dynamically dastard and adorable side to her schemes. That said, the lone female character this story could’ve done without involves a love triangle between Bob, Chilli and Cheryl Deakins (Rashida Jones). It’s good for one gag, but feels reductive and never comes to a satisfactory arc.
Despite the fun shenanigans, the grabassing and horseplay isn’t perfect. The film’s bottom drops out after one particularly egregious taboo topic comes into play in one of the pranks, essentially making two characters irredeemable. Nevertheless, that doesn’t stop the filmmakers from trying to redeem them. The characters who take the committal to the objectionable bit too far are deservedly chastised, but some audiences may find their likability irreparably damaged. Desperate tag team hopeful/ bartender Lou (Steve Berg) lacks in zesty dialogue and snappy comedic quips. His and Anna’s long-standing grudge is moderately funny, and the actor is great, but it doesn’t totally show why he’s a necessary character given this is already a sprawling ensemble.
Will this make you feel like a kid again? Possibly. The sense of adolescent whimsy is there in spades, as are the good sentiments, but with a slight amount of comedy punch-up, this could’ve been catapulted into legendary status.
TAG opens on June 15.