What they don’t tend to be are wacky stories about grown men engaged in an epic game of tag — the playground game Australians variously call tip, tips, tiggy or, as one South Australian colleague insists, “chasey”.
Based on a group of real-life men who have been playing the same game for decades, Tag is a surprisingly funny and charming comedy laced with some rather violent pratfalls. Even though it is thoroughly infantile at many points, try as you might to stifle that laugh, despite yourself, you’ll find plenty of instances to cackle, especially if you like physical comedy.
Bob (Jon Hamm), Chilli (Jake Johnson), Hoagie (Ed Helms), Sable (Hannibal Buress) and Jerry (Jeremy Renner) have been mates since primary school. They’ve been locked in the same tag tournament for 30 years, living by the motto “Grow old or keep playing”.
Since becoming adults and moving to different parts of the country, the action is limited to the month of May each year as set out in a series of by-laws and amendments. That means being tagged “it” during funerals, at the hospital or getting a job as a janitor at your buddy’s company so you can trap him during an important business meeting.
When Hoagie shows up in Bob’s office, tags him, and tells him that Jerry’s quitting after this season, the pair spring into action to scoop up Chilli and Sable on their way back to their hometown.
Jerry, you see, has never been “it”. In three decades, the Roadrunner-esque, oh-so-cool gym owner has evaded being tagged, and the other four think it’s their last shot. They also think this is their best chance because Jerry is getting married in the last weekend of May and would, presumably, be a sitting duck at various points.
Accompanying them are Rebecca (Annabelle Wallis), a journalist who was originally writing a business profile about Bob but smelled a much better story, and the very intense Anna (Isla Fisher), Hoagie’s wife who’s been friends with everyone since their school days but has never been allowed to play.
The two women, along with former school crush Cheryl (Rashida Jones) and Jerry’s fiance Susan (Leslie Bibb) work to diffuse the testosterone level of the movie though Fisher is the only one who’s effective at stealing the spotlight from the men.
Tag may be uneven and the ending unexpectedly veers into sentimentality, but it has an infectious energy. Two set-pieces involving all-in attempts to tag Jerry is elevated by great use of slow-motion and Renner’s natural smugness.
First-time director Jeff Tomsic has assembled a great cast, even if you don’t quite believe they’re all the same age (at 35, Buress is 12 years younger than Hamm and Renner). The five leads all bring something different to the ensemble and that interplay is why Tag works more often than it doesn’t. Plus, anytime Hamm puts his comedy hat on is a gift to us mere mortals from the gods.
There is, of course, an element of nostalgia at play with its emphasis on friendship and childhood bonds — so you get to have your fuzzy moment and your funny bone tickled.