First of all, “Tag” was never going to be as riotously funny as the trailers.
The tale of an “epic” decades-long game of tag, begun in childhood and taken deep into adulthood, a jaw-dropping true story freely adapted to embrace the gonzo stylings of Jake Johnson, Jeremy Renner, Ed Helms, Jon Hamm and Hannibal Buress, it had the promise of a PG-13 version of “The Hangover,” boy-bonding gone terribly, hilariously wrong, with pratfalls, sucker punches and “You’re IT.”
Sadly, Warner Brothers decided to go all R-rated with it, littering the soundtrack with F-bombs, filling the screen with masturbation gags and sexual insults amidst the mayhem. Don’t tell me kids and families wouldn’t have eaten this up as PG-13. After all, what’s more juvenile than “tag?”
“Tag” still is, as promised, a cavalcade of slo-motion tumbles, crashes, slaps and tickles, filmed largely in comic close-ups and benefiting grandly from action star Jeremy Renner’s revelry as the ninja warrior of this game — the one who is too cunning, too lithe and athletic and entirely too ruthless to ever be “it.”
What the trailer doesn’t show you is how the under-employed funnywoman Isla Fisher all but steals the damned thing. As the spouse of one of the born losers who can never lay a tag on childhood pal Jerry (Renner), Fisher goes full Amanda Plummer in “Pulp Fiction,” a petite ginger shriek of rage and repressed violence, maybe the most competitive one of all, even though by rights, only her hubbie (Helms) is allowed to play.
We’re introduced to “the game,” played all over the country by guys who grew up together but moved on to have widely disparate lives in far flung locales, when Hoagie (Helms), a successful veterinarian, applies for a job as custodian at a “Fortune 800” insurance company. Turns out, that company is run by old classmate Bob (Hamm). Hoagie’s got a disguise that gives him access to Bob in the middle of a Wall Street Journal interview.
After one SERIOUS pratfall by Hamm, Bob’s “it. “And Bob and Hoagie have to explain to the reporter (Annabelle Wallis) just what the hell it is they’re doing. Rather than postponing the profile to another day, she decides to tag (ahem) along. Better story.
Yeah, this kind of really happened. More or less.
“This year we tag Jerry” is everybody’s mantra, as Hoagie and Bob chase down stoner divorce’ Chili (Johnson, OUT there, as usual) and kidnap overthinker Sable (Hannibal Buress, a deadpan stitch) away from his therapist.
Time’s a-wasting. Jerry is about to marry Susan (Leslie Bibb) back in Spokane. They’ve got mere hours before this Every May Game of Tag ends forever, as Jerry wants to retire untagged.
The four taggable guys plot and plan and carry a grudge about Jerry never ever being “it.” Then we see them take their first shots at him this time around.
Whatever it is they’re playing, Jerry is on a whole other “Bourne Ultimatum” level, smugly seeing their moves in stop-time, narrating his analysis and heroics as he dodges each reach and feint.
“Poor planning,” he grins to himself. “Poor execution.”
There are pre-wedding events to crash, plots to concoct, bruises to soothe, beers to drink and joints to smoke. And lots of head games tumble into the mix, involving old flames (Rashida Jones) and a bride (Bibb) who just isn’t having this s— messing up her wedding, you guys.
Renner’s physically cocky cool (he got hurt, here and there) is a great asset, the laconic observations of Buress always worth a laugh. And Johnson’s wild-eyed mania — his first chase is seen via a chest-cam, frantically flying down stairs, through alleys and into fences — can be hilarious.
But Fisher is fall-on-the-floor funny every time she opens her furious, foul mouth. She makes the stakes “epic” in this “epic” game. Bibb also gets into the antic spirit of things nicely, and Nora Dunn and Brian Dennehy turn up in VERY amusing cameos.
Yes, the script takes several entirely-too-predictable and sentimental pauses, much like “The Hangover” movies. Too many. But the message that one and all embrace resonates, especially with people like these characters, facing 40 (the game’s been going on since they were nine) and rationalizing “Why are you still playing a child’s game?”
“We don’t stop playing because we grow old,” they know, even if they misquote who said it. “We grow old because we stop playing.”
Let’s hope this crew, and the real-life crew (stay through the credits, people) who inspired them, never do.
MPAA Rating: R for language throughout, crude sexual content, drug use and brief nudity
Cast: Jon Hamm, Jeremy Renner, Isla Fisher, Hannibal Buress, Ed Helms, Jake Johnson, Leslie Bibb, Rashida Jones, Annabelle Wallis
Credits:Directed by Jess Tomsic, script by Mark Steilen and Rob McKittrick. A Warner Brothers/New Line release.
Running time: 1:40