A funny thing happened on the way to my expected scathing review of this weekend's raunchy, guy-centric comedy Tag, starring Jeremy Renner, Jon Hamm, Ed Helms, Jake Johnson, and Hannibal Buress as a group of now middle-aged pranksters who gather annually for what has become a 30-year long twisted variation on that simple and beloved childhood game.
I fell in love with it.
Based on an almost unbelievably true story chronicled in a Wall Street Journal article by Russell Adams, Tag lives into the worn out mantra "We don't stop playing because we get old; we get old because we stop playing" because for some people it's true to a ridiculous degree.
Indeed, Tag is ridiculous.
Tag is also raunchy and, perhaps most surprisingly, Tag is remarkably sweet.
It's a fair statement that we didn't particularly need yet another Hollywood comedy about dysfunctional man-children refusing to grow up and refusing to do anything resembling adulting. We've seen this concept before and we've seldom seen this concept done well.
But, hang in there.
There's something hilariously giggly about the actual truth at the core of this concept, the truth of a group of guys refusing to give up their game of Tag, a game that isn't played out quite as simply as it was in childhood yet a game that still retains some of the unspoken values and lessons contained within that childhood game.
This version of Tag is played out with different rules, fewer boundaries, and naughty set-ups, yet amidst all that naughtiness there's an undeniable thread of sweetness, loyalty, friendship, and a handful of fundamental life lessons we all need to learn including, quite basically, "You're worth looking for" and, yeah, "You're it."
In Tag, Jeremy Renner's Jerry has, in fact, never actually been "it." For 30 years, he's successfully evaded ever being tagged and by the time we catch up to him he's on the verge of getting married and also on the verge of deciding that this year's game of Tag will be his last.
If you somehow think the sanctity of his wedding isn't going to be a target for Jerry's ever elusive tagging, you're simply not paying attention. Jerry will be a target, just as everyone has been a target through family funerals, precious childbirths, and various other places you probably never thought of when you were playing your childhood game of tag years ago.
While Renner's Jerry is the ensemble's wily and confident escape artist with Bond-like skills of avoiding capture, the rest of the ensemble is equally as captivating.
Ed Helms is Hoagie, the game's most seriously obsessed player whose wife (Isla Fisher) considers it their version of a gangbang.
She kind of has a point.
Jon Hamm's Bob Callahan is a corporate hotshot who drops everything to play, including an interview with the Wall Street Journal where he instead invites the reporter (Annabelle Wallis) to, um, tag along.
Jake Johnson plays the kind of slacker/stoner we've seen him play countless times before, but he does so in a way here that's fresh and funny and perfectly in tune with the rest of the ensemble.
Finally, there's Hannibal Buress, who kind of feels here like the film's Tiffany Haddish, though Buress's delivery is much more deadpan and completely off the cuff.
Director Jeff Tomsic (television's The Detour) could have easily gone the wrong way with Tag, turning the film into another piece of escapist trash celebrating toxic masculinity. For the most part, this never really happens. The script by Rob McKittrick and Mark Steilen never quite gives up on the idea that there's something inherently decent about these guys and Tag somehow manages to constantly lean into the idea that underneath their almost pathetic facade there's a layer of sweetness and belonging that makes this warped little tribe actually something pretty special.
The film's 90's musical vibe, including selections from the likes of A Tribe Called Quest and The Pixies among others, serves to enhance our awareness that these guys, love 'em or hate 'em, have been like this for a really long time and it actually means something.
I know it.
Tag isn't for everyone. Some of you will hate it. You will really, really hate it. Tag is likely to play best for those dysfunctionals of the world, men and women, who simply "get" this idea that sometimes one's tribe is pretty screwed up but you love them anyway. You consider them "it" not because they're sexy or rich or connected, but because you know them, you understand them, you enjoy being around them, and amidst those flaws is something pretty fantastic. The film's ensemble cast couldn't be more wildly different, yet together they seem like something pretty wildly wonderful and funny and endearing and, yeah, strangely and weirdly sweet.
And yeah, just in case no one's told you today...you're worth searching for and now, tag, you're it.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic