There’s an inherent silliness in the idea of a movie about a game of tag that goes on for 100 minutes; if it’s not funny, it’s going to get really boring.
But perhaps the only thing stranger is an actual game of tag that lasts for 30 years. That’s the true story behind Tag, chronicled in the Wall Street Journal in 2013.
Names and details have been changed — though not, amazingly, the notion that you might quietly call one player “It” at his father’s funeral — in this lighthearted romp, full of cursing and cartoon violence.
Ed Helms stars as Hoagie, one of the more intense players in a game that has been going on among five friends since their grade-school days. The rules have evolved, although it’s still a “no girls” zone, despite sideline assistance from Hoagie’s wife (Isla Fisher). The game runs for each month of May, after which the loser — there are no winners in tag, we’re reminded, just one loser — has to remain It for 11 months.
Hoagie’s plan is to round up his fellow taggers — CEO Callahan (Jon Hamm), pothead Randy (Jake Johnson) and maritally troubled Sable (Hannibal Burns) — and go in pursuit of Jerry (Jeremy Renner), who has never been It.
Renner is perfectly cast in the role of the extreme player, and seems to be dipping into his Avengers/Mission Impossible/Bourne toolkit to evade capture. In the hands of director Jeff Tomsic (mostly known for TV, and it shows), this involves a lot of slow-motion running and quick-cut fighting, but I’ll be the first to admit that Helms’ goofy mug never gets tiresome.
Writers Rob McKittrick and Mark Steilen do what they can to estrogen up the screenplay, throwing in an old flame (Rashida Jones) and turning journalist Russell Adams into Annabelle Wallis, who basically embeds herself with the boys to get the story. And Leslie Bibb nails the part of Jerry’s effervescent fiancée — we’re never quite sure how forgiving she’s going to be as the tag shenanigans (tagnanigans?) threaten to upset her perfect May wedding.
But the movie’s charm rests on its modest premise. Tag is one of the simplest pastimes and among the oldest, already referred to in historical terms by the 2nd century Greek scholar Julius Pollux. It may even predate human evolution, if the squirrels in my neighbourhood are anything to go by.
And sure, the film’s message about the importance of friendship and the value of play may be laid on a little thick at times. But there’s no denying its infectious nature. You may even find yourself patting your moviegoing companion on the back as you leave the theatre. “Thanks for the popcorn. Also, you’re It.” ∂∂∂1/2
Tag opens across Canada on June 15.
Jake Johnson, foreground, and Ed Helms, rear, carry the childhood game of It well into adulthood, where a great deal of honour seems to be at stake.