As a member of the Journal’s staff, I can’t be objective about “Tag.” This action comedy was adapted freely—very freely—from a terrific piece that ran in the Journal back in 2013, so I went into the screening hoping for a triumph. And then? Well, the film can be seen in two ways. In the one hand, it’s nothing but grown men behaving like idiot kids while they chase around the country in an annual game of tag they’ve been playing ever since they were actual kids; meaning its prospects may be limited. On the other, it’s nothing but grown men behaving etc., etc.; meaning it could be a huge summer hit. For all its repetitiveness, and frantic silliness, “Tag” ends up being good fun, with an unexpectedly sweet spirit that stays with you. It’s really about the power of friendship, a vision of adult life as the playground we would love it to be.
The original article, by Russell Adams, concerned ten men in their 40s who were continuing a game of tag they’d started 23 years earlier, as classmates at a Spokane, Wash. prep school. They played the game during one month of every year, and the tradition had evolved into a nation-wide chase, with shifting alliances and wives functioning as spies. Yet the basic rules remained those of the schoolyard: someone was It until he tagged someone else.
The movie version was directed by Jeff Tomsic from a script by Rob McKittrick and Mark Steilen. The script cuts the group’s number by half, but raises the emotional stakes to mock-epic levels, puts incessant banter into everyone’s mouths and parodies kung-fu conventions in slomo sequences.
Jeremy Renner is the production’s action-adventure star. He plays a fitness guru and martial artist named Jerry. Alone among the five aging buddies, has never been tagged, and the organizing idea of this disorganized drama is Jerry’s impending wedding. During the ceremony, the others hope, his guard will be down and they’ll be able to tag him once and for all.
Those other members of the group are played by Ed Helms, Jon Hamm, Hannibal Buress and Jake Johnson; the cast also includes Isla Fisher as a ferociously competitive wife; Leslie Bibb—who has the broadest smile since Jim Carrey—as Jerry’s fiancée; and Annabelle Wallis as Rebecca, the fictionalized reporter from the Wall Street Journal. I’ve never met Russell Adams, so I don’t know how fictionalized his counterpart is. I can only report that Rebecca is physically beautiful and professionally dutiful. “What’s happening here?” she asks anxiously at one point. At another, right after a crazed golf-cart chase, she says, “Wait a minute! I’m confused. What just happened out there?” Taking copious notes from start to finish, she lends gravitas to the proceedings, and she’ll serve as an inspiration to all the ink-stained wretches of our industry.
I’m Joe Morgenstern. I’ll be back on KCRW next week with more reviews.