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" Oh, you trace "
— Joey Lauren Adams, Chasing Amy

MRQE Top Critic

Breakdown

Tense, well-crafted thriller, complete with smart villains. —Marty Mapes (review...)

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Tag isn’t nimble enough to touch its full potential.

Game Month

All's fair in Tag
All’s fair in Tag

Yeah. Tag is “inspired” by a true story, with its source material pulled from a 2013 Wall Street Journal article by Russell Adams (It Takes Planning, Caution to Avoid Being It, still available online behind a WSJ subscriber paywall). But plenty of liberties were taken while stretching out the newspaper story to fill 100 minutes of screen time. And that includes changing the journalist from Russell to Rebecca (Annabelle Wallis, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword).

This could’ve — should’ve — been a stupid masterpiece, something that takes a goofy premise and turns it into a movie gem worth watching over and over, even if only as background noise late at night on streaming video. Think about really stupid — and yet truly great — movies like Dodgeball, Zoolander (and Zoolander 2) and Nacho Libre. They gleefully brandish their preposterousness. And their stupidity is actually superficial. It took a lot of smarts to make those movies work so well.

Here, Tag simply doesn’t go far enough. It is a great idea for a stupid movie, but the story falls for predictable Hollywood traps, including a feeble attempt at heart tugging that doesn’t really fit. Tag should’ve gone for the jugular and taken the climax in a totally different, totally liberating direction — one much more in keeping with the movie’s “keep playing or grow old” theme.

Replay

This epic game of tag — as played out in the movie — dates back to 1983 and involves five best friends (in reality, there are 10, but no doubt that’s too narratively daunting when Tag struggles to create five unique characters, each laden with stereotypical emotions and reactions).

The rules were crafted by five 9-year-old boys. Rule #!: No girls. Of course. That should go without saying. Especially back in the 1980s. There are also important boundaries to identify. It’s fine to punch a fellow player in the butt cheeks. But do NOT punch the butthole. And the game is afoot during the month of May.

Through the decades, those rules have held true. Year after year, as the month of May rolls around, a new season of tag is played, even as the players move to diverse locations like Denver, Portland and Spokane. Okay. They’re not really all that diverse. And, of course, Denver’s pot laws are exploited for cheap laughs.

Season after season, one player winds up staring down the next 11 months wearing the undesirable moniker of “It.” All have held the title. All except one. Jerry (Jeremy Renner, The Avengers) is a tag ninja with some mad, mad skills and he has never been tagged. Hoagie (Ed Helms, the Hangover trilogy) wants to bring that streak to an end.

With that mission in mind, the boys are buoyed by a solid mantra, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old, we grow old because we stop playing.” For decades, these geniuses attributed that quote to Ben Franklin, granting it a gravitas that actually needs to be credited to George Bernard Shaw. That failure in attribution is itself turned into a joke, but it’s one of many that fall flat.

Speaking of flat, what’s up with Hannibal Buress’ character, Sable? He is so detached from his supposedly best friends; his quirky comments are so out of place and random. It. Doesn’t. Work.

Pace Yourself

Tag pales in comparison to another comedy winner, the recently-released Game Night. The similarities in terms of audience and comic aspirations are numerous, but the key difference is in the execution.

Game Night offers a rapid-fire assault of humor, some low-brow, some high. Some jokes work, others don’t; but, with such brisk pacing, there’s no opportunity to hear the “thud” of the duds.

In Tag, there are patches of narrative that bog down the action. This should’ve been a lean humor machine with no fat to trim. Instead, a detour through an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting flounders while attempting to add unnecessary texture. And that oh-so-typical conclusion. Sigh. Opportunities missed.

Given this is director Jeff Tomsic’s feature-length directing debut, maybe part of the problem is in the adjustment to the long-form narrative. Similarly, screen scribes Rob McKittrick and Mark Steilen and front-loaded with short-form stories.

At least everybody’s game enough to keep trying, right on through the end credits. They start with vintage home video footage of the real tag men’s escapades. That’s followed by a silly song sung by the movie’s players, all leading up to one last tag.