Friday, June 15, 2018

Film Review: Tag

Sexuality/Nudity Offensive
Violence Acceptable
Vulgarity Mature
Anti-Catholic Philosophy Mature

This is one of those movies that is difficult to review without getting into spoiler territory.  I have a natural diversion to spoilers because I think that they rob a good deal of the enjoyment people get from a story.  But I think there is a difference between a surprise and a sucker punch.  I don't know that the filmmakers were intending to do the latter, but that is how it felt to me.  I will do my best to be as vague as possible, but be warned:


Tag is about a group of 5 friends from grade school who, for the entire month of May, play a cut-throat game of tag.  Over the years, they've grown up and moved to different states, but they still play tag during the month.  And they take it deadly seriously with signed rules and amendments as well as elaborate tricks and traps to get their target.  The movie beings with one of the men, Hoagie (Ed Helms) gets a job as a janitor at a company where Callahan (Jon Hamm) is a high ranking executive.  While Callahan is being interviewed by Rebecca (Annabelle Wallis), a reporter from the Wall Street Journal, Hoagie engages Callahan in tag.  Hoagie tells him that Jerry (Jeremy Renner) is getting married in a few days and then is planning to retire from Tag having never been "it."  They resolve to get their other tag partners, the stoner-loser Chili (Jake Johnson) and the neurotic Sable (Hannibal Buress) to get Jerry once and for all.  Accompanying them is Hoagie's wife Anna (Isla Fisher) who cannot play because "no girls allowed," but encourages and supports them in taking down Jerry.  What follows are expected Hollywood hijinks.

Director Tomsic should be given special credit because he does what not enough comedy directors do: he uses the camera comically.  This sounds like a no-brainer, but most comedies rely mainly on the writing and the actors and ignore the visual element.  Tomsic creates great anticipation and tension.  He also has studied other genres and kicks in to action or horror mode when the scene requires it for maximum laughs.  Anyone who has seen the movie Predator will be particularly tickled by the homage in the middle of the film.

The actors also do their jobs incredibly well.  Helms captures some of the charm he had in the middle of his run on The Office.  He is a bit annoying, but he infuses his character with enough humor and heart to make him likable.  As always, Hamm tries to hard in his comedic roles, but he is very believable as the manchild executive.  Johnson goes big with some of the movie's most outlandish and scandalizing lines, but delivers them with comedic conviction.  Buress spends most of the movie acting as if he is on ambien, but his deadpan delivery still works.  But the breakout of this film is Fischer.  As she was in The Wedding Crashers and Keeping Up With the Joneses, Fischer is a comedic star.  She has a crazy energy that is so outrageous that it forces laughs out of you.  I found myself wanting more of her in the story than there was.

The movie constantly mocks and admires the tag players.  It vacillates from looking down on them as immature man/children.  But at the same time it looks at the bonds of friendship that form over the silliest of things.  It makes me think about how my friends and I can engage in the most passionate and heated debates about pop culture things like The Last Jedi, but the arguments are ultimately a medium in which our friendships connect and grow.  The same thing is visible in this movie, showing how it is the bonds between us, not the things that bind us, that matter.

However there is a line between being child-like and childish.  This movie does show the child-like sense of fun and wonder that these men have.  But it also shows them as being stunted and childish, especially Chili.

I also have an aversion to drug humor.  It doesn't mean that drug abuse is the worst of all sins, but when I see it in a movie played for laughs, it bothers me.  But this is my own personal issue.  When Chili jokes to an addict at an AA meeting that he is high, I found it more off-putting than funny.  And during the credits there is a needless brief shot of full frontal male nudity that makes this movie even more difficult to recommend.

This now brings us to the main problem with the movie: the last act gets dark.  Adding a little shadowing to a light story can give it some substance and depth.  But this was a bit much.  On top of that, the movie really didn't prepare you.  It didn't feel like it played fair.

In the movie (500) Days of Summer, the narrator warns you in the beginning that the movie was a story about love, but not a love story.  In Fanboys, they introduce to you in the first act that one of the main characters is dying so they decide to steal a copy of The Phantom Menace.  In those movies, you laughed at the jokes, but then when it got serious, you were prepared.  It didn't feel like the rug was pulled out from under you.  Tag does give a bit of foreshadowing, but it is not enough to emotionally prepare. 

This doesn't necessarily make the movie bad.  I'm sure that the filmmakers were seeking to uplift and pull at heartstrings.  However, I think their emotional arithmetic was off and they made a narrative miscalculation. 

Watching Tag is like eating a juicy steak dinner and finishing it with teaspoon of cod-liver oil.  As good as everything is that came before, it just leaves a bad taste in your mouth.

image by Yasir72.multan

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