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Tag's premise might seem ridiculous on the surface, but the more you read into the film's true life story, the more you begin to see there's a lot of potential for a movie based on a real-life game of tag to bring the laughs. The good news is that this movie does manage to live up to that potential for a majority of its running time, deploying some seriously funny gags that make for frantic, good-natured comedy. On the other side of the coin, some poor decisions towards the later part of the film manage to take away from the proceedings, with a final twist that may be polarizing for audiences. Despite its faults, Tag is a solid, enjoyable experience, with stand-out performances, and some big summer comedy laughs.
Over the course of several decades, a group of childhood friends (Ed Helms, Jon Hamm, Jake Johnson, Jeremy Renner and Hannibal Burress) have indulged in what is one of the longest running games of Tag ever played. With one month of the year dedicated to active play, their friendship has stood the test of time, and regulation play. But when one of their ranks, Jerry (Renner), wants to retire the game with a spotless, tag-less record, it's up to the rest of the gang to pull out all the stops and make game-changing history -- no matter who ends up tagging along or getting in the way.
If you've been paying attention to the marketing for New Line's Tag, you'll notice that the film is selling itself on the rather interesting hook that it's, seriously, based on a true story. Right there, in that decision, is the beginning of what doesn't really work when it comes to the film's narrative, as it has a problem with deciding which side of the fence it's operating on. Using the real life game and the outrageous lengths the actual participants have gone to in order to win is a good foundation, but some of the material that Tag incorporates with the more true-to-life aspects doesn't always mesh as well as it should. Thankfully, this is offset by the fact that this film still has the heart of the real game in its DNA, even if it's not always in the right place.
Still, the fact that the cast of Tag injects a huge shot of life into what's an uneven experience is the best selling point that this film has to offer. In particular, Jeremy Renner looks like he's having a blast as the borderline psychotic champion of the group, Hannibal Burress's deadpan humor as Kevin acts as a fantastic anchor for the madness spinning around him, and Isla Fisher's manic energy could have been used even more in the film, as she shines and commands the moments she's let loose. With the solid performances housed in a decent framework of a story, one would think Tag would be an awesome film. Still, it's the tonal mash-up that sinks the film down to a lower level than it might have otherwise occupied.
I'd be remiss if I didn't note there are two decisions in the latter half of the film that really knock the mostly jocular tone of Tag out of sync with where it was heading. After a good hour or so of friends at play, joking around and participating in various rivalries, the story takes a couple of turns that are mean-spirited, one of which would have worked better if the entire film was an R-rated dark comedy full of horrible people. Upon further thought in that arena, Tag is barely an R-rated experience at all, with language really being the qualifier for the more mature rating the film is being sold under. With a tone change, and some quick edits, this could have been a PG-13 laugh riot, or else a hard R gut punch of laughs.
Independent of those issues, the second bad decision made in Tag's story comes at the end, when it delves into subject matter that has been proven to take the wind out of a comedy's sails. The worst part about this decision is that it comes so late, and without the proper set up, so that when an attempt is made to pick up the laugh-filled, game-inspired madness that happens earlier on in the film, it may be too little, too late for some.
While Tag disappoints in some ways, it's certainly not a wasted effort. When the film settles into a natural groove between the ensemble cast, it generates some good laughs throughout. Come to think of it, Tag's occupation of the border between biopic and fictitious comedy is rather interesting, considering how many of the actual tactics from the real-life source material are adapted to great effect in the film's happenings. Despite its sometimes messy execution, Tag is still full of slick performances and a streak of impish glee running through its various set pieces, which draws its failings in even sharper contrast than a more middling film of its ilk.