Tag

Posted on June 14, 2018 at 5:46 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language throughout, crude sexual content, drug use and brief nudity
Profanity: Very strong and crude language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and drugs
Violence/ Scariness: Extended comic peril and violence, medical issues
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: June 15, 2018
Date Released to DVD: August 27, 2018
Copyright 2018 Warner Brothers

One of the most reliably funny situations in literature is adults taking on with utmost seriousness the kinds of concerns generally left to children. The bigger the gap between the actual and perceived stakes, the funnier it gets. One of my favorite P.G. Wodehouse stories, “The Purity of the Turf,” is a classic example.

Tag” is the story of adult men who have been playing the same game since their schoolyard days. The players may not be all-stars when it comes to tagging each other, but as comic actors they are at the top of the class, and every one of the actors is a standout. Despite a couple of missteps in the script, it is one of the most consistently and even endearingly funny films of the summer.

Children like the game of tag because the rules are simple enough to learn immediately but complicated enough to negotiate over (no tag backs!), and because you can run around and triumph over each other. Normally, though, when children get older they prefer more structure and complexity and move on to amateur versions of popular games that you can see professionals play on television like tennis and golf. Not the “Tag Brothers,” though. As described in a 2013 Wall Street Journal front page story, a group of Catholic schoolboys spend a month each year trying to tag each other. They wear disguises and sneak into each other’s workplaces. They say that it keeps them young and literally keeps them in touch.

While this is a highly fictionalized — and very funny — version of the story, some of the wildest elements are true. One notorious tag occurred at the funeral of one member’s father. He became “it” as he stood at the side of his father’s grave. And, in an interview on CBS Sunday Morning, he said his father would have loved it.

In a job interview, Hoagie (Ed Helms) explains that even though he is a veterinarian, he is applying for a job as a janitor because it is on his apparently quite literal bucket list. The job is at a large corporation, where Callahan, the CEO (Jon Hamm), is about to be interviewed by a reporter for the Wall Street Journal (Annabelle Wallis as Rebecca). Hoagie successfully not only tags Callahan but persuades him to leave the interview, the office, and pretty much any shred of adult responsibility to spend the month of May playing tag. There is a special reason for this year’s tag game. Jerry (Jeremy Renner) is the only one of the group who has never been tagged. He’s essentially the tag ninja. He is getting married on the last day of the annual tag month, and the game may be over after that. Hoagie, Callahan, their stoner friend Chilli (Jake Johnson), and the high-strung Sable they interrupt in the middle of a therapy session (Hannibal Buress) join forces to get Jerry at last.

“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing,” the tag team likes to say, even though they are not always accurate about who said it. But it turns out that you can keep playing but you can’t put off getting old. The simplest game in the world, probably dating back to the Cro-Magnan era, cannot help developing an overlay of complexity as the players get older, both in tactics and stakes. That is part of what makes this movie so much silly fun. Seeing grown-ups strategize a game of tag — including formal legal amendments to the foundational agreement — gives this movie a joyful bounciness that becomes positively giddy.

The mayhem is deftly staged by director Jeff Tomsic and editor Josh Crockett, but the film never loses sight of how much the game means to the players and the people around them. Isla Fisher, as Hoagie’s wife, brings that “Wedding Crasher” intensity. She is as committed and competitive as the whole group of guys put together, and thank you to the filmmakers, including producer Will Ferrell, for not relegating the women in the cast to the “Now, honey, it’s time for you grow up” roles. Thomas Middleditch makes the most of his scene as a health club attendant with a braid and an attitude. Helms, Buress, and Johnson are all terrific, creating complete characters in the midst of the comic chaos, but it is a special pleasure to see Hamm and Renner, known for their dramatic roles, show off their comedy skills. With a team like this, I’d keep playing, too.

Parents should know that this film includes constant very strong and crude language, vulgar sexual references and situations, a bare behind, extended comic peril, mayhem, and violence, medical issues played for comedy including cancer and a miscarriage, alcohol, alcoholism, and marijuana.

Family discussion: What childhood game do you still enjoy? What keeps you connected to your old friends?

If you like this, try; “The Hangover” and “Cedar Rapids”

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Comedy DVD/Blu-Ray movie review

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