Tag Review: Jeremy Renner Plays the Game Well
It might not have much more substance than the titular game, but Tag offers enjoyable and breezy summer action/comedy entertainment.
Jokes about Hawkeye's absence in Avengers: Infinity War aside, Tag provides Jeremy Renner with a fun summer vehicle of his own to pass the time until his return to the MCU. The movie is also the second solid non-franchise action/comedy from Warner Bros. this year, arriving just a few months after the studio's February hit Game Night. Armed with a top-notch cast and drawing inspiration from amusing real-life events, Renner's film has a lot working in its favor - even if its story and drama fall short of the bar set by its comical action elements. Fortunately, at the end of the day, Tag is more interested in serving up simple pleasures than big life lessons, like the game of tag itself. It might not have much more substance than the titular game, but Tag offers enjoyable and breezy summer action/comedy entertainment.
Tag follows a group of lifelong friends - Jerry Pierce (Renner), Hogan "Hoagie" Malloy (Ed Helms), Bob Callahan (Jon Hamm), Kevin Sable (Hannibal Buress), and Randy "Chilli" Cilliano (Jake Johnson) - who, when they were nine years old, started a game of tag that they play throughout the month of May. Thirty years later, the five men have grown up and gone in different directions, yet still meet up every May to continue playing tag together. This time, however, Hoagie has a very specific goal in mind: to finally tag Jerry, who has never been tagged in three decades of playing and plans to retire after this year, in order to keep his perfect record.
Problem is, there's a reason Jerry has never been tagged - he's super athletic and positively diabolical, when it comes to the extreme measures that he's willing to take to avoid being "It". Nevertheless, Hoagie is equally determined to tag Jerry this year and rounds up his old friends to return to their hometown in Spokane, Washington, armed with a plan. As it turns out, Jerry is getting married and the event might just well present the perfect opportunity for his pals to finally dub him with the title of "It", before he calls it a day.
Tag is based on the 2013 Wall Street Journal article "It Takes Planning, Caution to Avoid Being 'It'", which profiles a game of tag that several friends have been playing for more than 23 years. The film smartly hits the ground running and even makes the author of said WSJ profile - here, fictional journalist Rebecca Crosby (Annabelle Wallis) - an integral part of the story here. Writers Rob McKittrick (Waiting...) and Mark Stellen (The Settlement, Shameless) wisely keep their feet planted firmly on the accelerator throughout the film, moving it steadily from one action/comedy sequence or set piece to another throughout its brisk, but not unnecessarily short, runtime. The only downside to that approach is that the slower moments where Tag pauses for expository conversations or flashbacks to the main characters' past can end up feeling perfunctory by comparison.
Like Game Night, Tag makes up for its script deficiencies by being more cinematically dynamic than the average studio action/comedy released in recent years. Director Jeff Tomsic (Idiotsitter, Broad City), helming a non-TV movie for the first time here, employs some clever technical flourishes (like Slo-mo/Fast-mo effects) to give the movie's action scenes some added flair and make them more visually engaging to watch. Director of photography Larry Blanford (Ride Along) and editor Josh Crockett (Tomsic's Idiotsitter collaborator) likewise do their part to make Tag's chase sequences easy to follow and, at times, better staged than similar beats in other non-comedic modern action movies. Elements like Jerry's inner-monologue when he's being chased only add another funny layer to the movie's various action/comedy scenarios.
Tag's players, like its plot, are pretty broadly sketched, but they also play to the comedic strengths of the actors behind them. The same goes for Isla Fisher as Hogan's wife Anna, a character who tends to get a little too intense about "the game", but once again proves that Fisher has a knack for playing zany, off-the-wall personalities. Leslie Bibb is similarly memorable in her supporting role as Jerry's fiancée, Susan Rollins, and keeps viewers wondering if Susan really isn't a fan of "the game" or is secretly as obsessed with winning tag as her husband-to-be. Unfortunately, Wallis as Rebecca is mostly there to serve as a witness to the shenanigans that ensue in the film, as is Rashida Jones as Cheryl Deakins - a woman whom Chilli and Bob have been obsessed with since they were kids.
As much fun as Tag has with its action/comedy, it doesn't dig equally deep into its themes about friendship and how time both does and does not change people. The film similarly raises some heavier issues (like how Jerry didn't tell his lifelong friends that he's a recovering alcoholic) that beg for further exploration, yet ultimately skims over them and leaves those plot threads dangling. Tag understandably wants to avoid being too serious and dragging the comedy down, which is why it avoids exploring its characters' lives and experiences in greater depth than it does. All the same, the actual movie ends up being less heartfelt and touching than the footage of the real-life tag game that inspired it (which is shown towards the end of the film), as a result.
These flaws aside, Tag is a fun (and funny) summer action/comedy that has more style than you might be expecting and makes for a good showcase for Renner the action star, broken arms and all. The film might not leave a lasting impression on audiences, but like this month's Ocean's Eight, it's a refreshingly lightweight romp that offers a nice counter-option to the big summer franchise tentpoles and emotionally-challenging indie films that are currently playing in theaters. It might not be the Hawkeye solo movie that the Marvel character's fans have been waiting for, but Tag should tide Renner's supporters over while they wait for him to join the battle for earth in next year's Avengers 4.
Tag is now playing in U.S. theaters nationwide. It is 100 minutes long and is rated R for language throughout, crude sexual content, drug use and brief nudity.
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