Film Review: Tag

Five friends carry on a game of tag for decades in a comedy based on a newspaper article.
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A high-concept comedy that settles for the obvious, Tag fleshes out a marginally offbeat Wall Street Journal article with tired gags and platitudes. Fans may be drawn by the cast, but word of mouth will be grim for a movie that takes a slow road to nowhere.

Starting in 1983, five friends indulge in a cutthroat game of tag, adding rules and amendments over the years while their tricks and schemes escalate. Marked by disguises, decoys and surprises, the game has spread across the country as the friends pursue different careers.

Hogan “Hoagie” Malloy (Ed Helms) sets off a new round by taking a job as a janitor in the insurance company where Bob Callahan (Jon Hamm) works. Bob's in the middle of an interview with Journal writer Rebecca Crosby (Annabelle Wallis) when Hoagie tags him. They set off for Denver, with an intrigued Rebecca tagging along.

Stoner "Chilli" (Jake Johnson) puts up a good fight, but is eventually tagged by Bob. Next up is Kevin Sable (Hannibal Buress), tagged in the middle of a therapy session in Portland. Then it's back to Spokane to catch Jerry (Jeremy Renner), the only one of the team never to be "it." (Renner's two broken arms, injured during filming, are barely obvious.)

The guys reconnoiter at Hoagie's mom Linda's (Nora Dunn) house and at their old hangout, the Sandpiper, where bartender Lou (Steve Berg) has always wanted to join the game. Later they break into Jerry's house, but he's several steps ahead of them. Jerry is getting married to Susan (Leslie Bibb), and during a truce the friends promise not to disrupt their wedding. But everything else is fair game.

Yes, the script by Rob McKittrick and Mark Steilen is just that cut-and-dried, dull exposition broken up by mild raunch and weak slapstick. Incongruous settings that are supposed to provoke laughter—like the guys disrupting an AA meeting—feel uncomfortable instead. A long chase on a golf course is staged like a lame Hanna-Barbera "Yogi Bear" cartoon.

The stars play to type, not to each other. Renner's into spy exploits, Helms is back to his Hangover "everyman unhinged" mode, Johnson's sloppy and high, and Buress' laid-back one-liners clang into a void. Hamm is the only lead who seems to be having fun. (Watch him slip on a devastating pout while posing for a selfie.)

Hoagie's wife Anna (a caffeinated Isla Fisher) and Chilli's old girlfriend Cheryl (Rashida Jones) feel like they've been dragged in to tamp down the testosterone. Every now and then a TV comic like Thomas Middleditch will pop up like a shill in a commercial.

No matter how much the writers try to open up the settings, Tag remains a depressingly ordinary story about less-than-funny guys and their predictable life lessons. Jeff Tomsic directs like he's doing a "New Girl" episode, and that's the crux of the problem here. Tag's a TV show, only with more stars and presumably a bigger budget (not that there's any evidence of that on the screen). It's the kind of movie you don't mind wasting some time on, but never finish streaming.

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