Sometimes you hear a story so absurd that it has to be true. Tag is based on a real group of adult friends that, as of 2013, play the game once a month for what I can only assume will be the rest of their lives. Twenty-three solid years of tag. The winner is everyone who’s not the loser.
Enter Jon Hamm, whose character name (Callahan) kind of doesn’t matter because I’ll just call him Jon Hamm. Hannibal Burress (Sable), Jake Johnson (Chili), Ed Helms (Hoagie), and Jeremy Renner (Jerry) have been playing this game since the 80s. Hoagie’s wife Anna (Isla Fisher) might as well be playing. Funnily enough, Hannibal was born the year that the game starts in the movie; everyone else is more age-appropriate. This version of tag is intense.
Every May, the five guys must protect their necks against the person who is “It,” and in this case, it’s Hoagie. He’s highly enthusiastic this year, because Jerry, who is definitely the American Ninja Warrior and has never been tagged, is “retiring” from the game. In order to surprise Jon Hamm efficiently and avoid him possibly getting away, Hoagie decides to tag him at work. He gets a job at Jon Hamm’s “Fortune 800” company as a janitor, sneaks in with a disguise, and tags Jon Hamm. It just so happens that Jon Hamm is in the middle of an interview with a writer from The Wall Street Journal and Jon’s deference to the game is way more interesting than whatever the original article was going to be about. The writer decides to follow the guys along as they quest to finally tag the elusive Jerry.
The group plays hard. Very little is off-limits: Tackling is fine. Funerals? As long as it’s after the ceremony is over and the casket is in the ground. Weddings? As long as the official ceremony is finished and the bride is kissed, but before they walk back down the aisle to leave. You can’t tag the person who just tagged you, you have to get someone else. No girls allowed. There can be truces or amendments to the rules, if necessary, but only in very particular circumstances.
The story revolves around this concept, which in theory is simple, but in execution is surprising and funny. The sequences in which the guys attempt to finally get Jerry, who lives up to the legacy of the cartoon mouse, are amazing. It’s an action movie in disguise. Jeremy Renner gets to bust out all the Hawkeye moves that he didn’t get to use in Infinity War. When he’s not parkouring out of the frame, he’s waging psychological warfare. Tag is the natural result of the Home Alone generation reaching 40. When I told my coworker what the film was about, she said, “Grown-ass men still playing games. Typical.”
But let’s just imagine that this is not a grand embellishment of a true story. This is the kind of movie where a quote like “Sweetheart, that’s a war crime,” is among the tamest sentences for what it refers to, uttered by a character. In real life, a friend who does something 95% of people definitely wouldn’t even do for April Fool’s Day is not a good person. They are a monster. Some stuff is just not worth joking about, or lying about, and while I’m glad the friends acknowledge the monstrousness of the spoiler, they stay friends with the offending party. They pushed that as far as they possibly could, and quite frankly, it bothered me after I left the theater.
Outside of that, the comedy is very entertaining, minus the love triangle subplot in which Jon Hamm is fighting for the attention of a woman. I like Jon a lot – especially here, where he’s the best part until Hannibal Burress arrives – but I just do not believe that Jon Hamm would have difficulty getting an old flame back. Even if you don’t see this movie in theaters, expect to see it on cable every day in six or seven months, because sometimes we need to turn our brains off.