Just because "Tag" is inspired by a true story doesn't make it any less asinine. Unctuous, unfunny, and developmentally discombobulated to the extent it feels like a fever dream in retrospect, the film (based on Russell Adams' Wall Street Journal
article "It Takes Planning, Caution to Avoid Being It") is 100 minutes of would-be rollicking nothingness. The central playersfive middle-aged friends who have been engaging in an annual game of Tag during the month of May for thirty years and countingare imbecilic and off-puttingly immature, and not at all in the child-at-heart way director Jeff Tomsic and screenwriters Rob McKittrick (2005's "Waiting...
") and Mark Steilen likely intend. The female characters, meanwhile, are too frequently sidelined and marginalized; this is a straight bro's world, and they're just living in it. A late close-up of Rashida Jones (2011's "The Big Year
"), wasted as childhood crush Cheryl Deakins, gives away her confusion over the mess she's found herself in: with a smirk and a shrug captured in slow-motion, she seems to be silently asking, "What the hell am I doing here?" It's a question which could just as easily be asked by anyone in the ensemble.
No matter where they are or what they're doing, lifelong pals Hogan 'Hoagie' Malloy (Ed Helms), Bob Callahan (John Hamm), Randy 'Chilli' Cilliano (Jake Johnson), Kevin Sable (Hannibal Buress) and Jerry Pierce (Jeremy Renner) have but one goal in May: to not be 'it' in a game of Tag. They'll travel the country and pop up unexpectedly. They'll pose as elderly women in shopping malls. Hoagie even takes a janitorial position at Callahan's Fortune 800 insurance company for the sole purpose of tagging him, much to the chagrin of Wall Street Journal
reporter Rebecca Crosby (Annabelle Wallis), who sees a story in their juvenile game and accompanies them to their Spokane, WA, hometown just as Jerry is about to wed Susan (Leslie Bibb, bringing a sly, barely contained energy to the movie's best performance). The ladies in these guys' lives, including Hoagie's cheerfully trash-talking wife Anna (Isla Fisher), are not allowed to compete; those are the rules they cooked up when they were 12. Their top objective this year and every year is simple: to finally tag the slippery, lightning-fast Jerry, who has evaded a single touch by one of them in their three decades of game-playing.
"Tag" would like to emulate a sense of fun, but there is no joy to be had in this gratingly superficial time-sucker. Cleverness is its unicornsomething sought, yet never found. The one-note protagonists, practically interchangeable would it not be for physical appearance and the perhaps one defining trait each is given, aren't remotely likable or plausible; their lives begin and end within the edited frames of the film, and even then they barely resemble convincing existences. That their ongoing childish game is explained away as an excuse to spend time together sounds desperate; if these fortysomething dudes need to leap off fire escapes, crash through windows, get into public battles, disrupt weddings, threaten waterboarding on a former classmate, and even chase each other through a hospital filled with gravely ill patients in order to keep in touch, it's safe to say they need to reassess their friendships and their sanity.
A depressing romp even before it abruptly and disingenuously tries to pull at the viewer's heartstrings in the third act, "Tag" first and foremost annoys as joke after joke bombs. In a picture of such little depth and so few innately human moments, its only speck of honesty comes not from a truthful dialogue exchange or camaraderie between the ensemble, but as a blink-and-you'll-miss-it detail courtesy of the prop department: when Hoagie returns to his childhood home, quintessential '90s album posters for Toad the Wet Sprocket's "Dulcinea" and Counting Crows' "August and Everything After" can be seen adorning the walls, leftover remnants from his bygone teenage years. The rest of "Tag" is anything but 'it', a nonsensical, mind-numbing race to nowhere.