8/10 Tag is proof that you can make a rich, interesting movie out of just about anything.
Based on the true story of a group of Spokane, Washington friends who had been playing the same game of tag for 23 years, Tag follows a much smaller group of friends in Hoagie Malloy (Ed Helms), Bob Callahan (Jon Hamm), Randy “Chilli” Cilliano (Jake Johnson), Kevin Sable (Hannibal Buress) and Jerry Pierce (Jeremy Renner). The film is framed loosely through the eyes of Wall Street Journal reporter Rebecca Crosby (Annabelle Wallis) who discovers the story while interviewing Callahan, though Malloy is much more the central character. He’s rallying the group to finally catch Pierce, who across the decades the game has run has never been tagged once.
Tag is highly entertaining. It’s got a spectacular cast, and they’re all 100 percent down to clown.
Being down to clown is the central concept and conflict of the entire film, which turns this simple, silly premise into a deceptively powerful story about dedication and friendship. The most informing thing a movie can do to develop its characters is force them to make choices, and Tag is constantly forcing its characters to make some pretty serious choices. Callahan puts the game over running his Fortune 500 company, Crosby puts it ahead of her story and Cilliano destroys strangers’ homes as he runs away from Malloy.
But Pierce and his fiance Susan Rollins (Leslie Bibb) do not choose tag over their adult lives. For Rollins, her wedding going off without a hitch is more important to her than their game, and she forces them to put it on hiatus for her sake. Pierce himself is planning to retire at the end of the season, severing the bond they’ve shared for decades. As the movie goes on, it becomes more and more clear exactly how deep a betrayal this is.
Neck-and-neck with the story’s ability to make tag dramatic is director Jeff Tomsic’s ability to make it exciting. Tag is a fully-fledged action comedy with titillating and creative action scenes. Characters are constantly pushing each other into choices that reaffirm the main theme about this game being the most important thing in their lives.
Pierce ups the anti on his introduction when he’s given a slow-motion effect and a mental monologue so viewers can experience what it’s like to be as good at something as Pierce is. He sees and accurately analyzes plays as they develop in slow motion, and when he’s in the game, so do we. We get to know exactly what he’s thinking and why he does what he does. The effect works to simultaneously reveal why he’s so good and also add to his mystique, with more or less the only special effect in the movie centered around him.
This is a serious game of tag, not just in duration, but in lengths the participants go to — as they grow older, they start lying to each other and investing in elaborate disguises. It’s enough to make each other, and at times the audience, genuinely question what is real.
Unfortunately, the biggest way this is expressed is through a miscarriage subplot. I don’t know if it’s an objectively not OK thing to joke about — it actually strengthens the plotpoint if that is the case — but it affected people I care about. I’ve thought about adding content warnings to these reviews several times, and one of the many reasons I don’t is because I don’t trust myself to do a comprehensive job of it, and all my research on common triggers indicates to me that doing a comprehensive job of it is close to impossible anyway. This is one of those that I simply never would have thought of. But I wanted to make sure that this was somewhere in the collected literature about this movie — they make a longform miscarriage joke, and that might be bad for some viewers who will definitely not be expecting it.
Leopold Knopp is a UNT graduate and managing editor of The Lewisville Texan Journal. Like Reel Entropy on Facebook, follow it on Twitter and Instagram and support it on Patreon. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.