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Saturday, June 16, 2018

Tag

Tag is a relentlessly mean-spirited comedy that turned me off early on, and was never able to win me over.  It has a premise that seems to suggest a good time at the movies, but when I left, I felt nothing but hatred for the characters at the center of it.  The movie is about five guys, all friends from childhood, who for over 30 years have spent the month of May playing the game of tag.  Why do they do this?  To feel young, they say.  And at one point, one of the guys even says, "It brings out the best in us".  I might have believed this if the movie didn't go so far in making the five guys such violent, aggressive, insufferable a-holes. 

The movie is inspired by a true story of a group of 10 guys from Spokane, Washington who would always get together once a year, and set up elaborate games where they would try to trick each other into getting tagged.  This went on for two decades, and when the story was picked up in an article in the Wall Street Journal, someone in Hollywood bought the film rights.  We see some video clips of the actual people playing the game at the end of the film, and it shows us what the movie itself lacks - Namely, a sense of fun and enjoyment.  In the movie, the characters play the game not on friendly terms, but mostly to be jerks to one another.  They not only use the game to interrupt important events in their lives like the birth of a child, the funeral of a father, or a wedding, but they even go so far as to implement torture when they threaten to waterboard someone.  As the movie got meaner and dumber with each passing scene, I started to feel dirty watching it.

The gang of idiots at the center of the game are played by a talented crew who can't rise above the material.  First we have Hoagie (Ed Helms), who in the opening scene gets a job as a janitor (even though he is already an established veterinarian) at the company where his friend Bob Callahan (Jon Hamm) works at, just so he can tag him while he's at work.  Next up is Chilli (Jake Johnson), a guy whose sole ambition in life is to smoke as much weed as possible.  We also have Sable (Hannibal Buress), who spends a majority of his screen time commentating on the action in what sounds less like dialogue, and more like an improvised stand up routine.  The four guys have decided to band together and tag their fifth friend, Jerry (Jeremy Renner), who has never been tagged once in the 30 years they've been playing the game.  Jerry's wedding is coming up, and there's talk that he's planning to retire from the game undefeated, so they have to defeat him now before the month of May is over, and this year's game is over.

Jerry has apparently never been tagged, because of his incredible speed and martial arts skills, which he frequently uses to avoid his friends.  We see him dodging, choking, rapid-fire punching and even setting up booby traps to evade his friends from tagging him.  At one point, he even hires a Mexican to pose as him in order to throw his friends off.  Uh-huh.  And at one point where it looks like the guys have cornered Jerry and are going to end his 30-year winning streak, he has his pregnant fiance (Leslie Bibb) come in and fake a miscarriage so that he can escape.  Witnessing all of this is a Wall Street Journal reporter (Annabelle Wallis), who follows the guys around to get the story, but the movie forgets to give her a single personality trait, so she mostly just watches events unfold in stunned disbelief.  Also involved is Hoagie's wife (Isla Fisher), who is probably more aggressive and gung-ho about the game than the men are. 

If Tag is dismal as a comedy, it becomes downright unwatchable when it tacks on a sentimental ending, which plays by the unwritten rule that most recent adult comedies must go mushy and soft in the last half after devoting a majority of the movie to jokes about masturbation and including every four letter word and obscene insult in the English language.  Yes, it turns out that one of the guys is terminally ill, and is afraid that this will be his last year playing the game.  You see, it was never about tagging Jerry, it was all about having one last all-out game before he dies!  Let me tell you, when the movie threw in a weepy bedside hospital scene, I was so moved I wanted to throw up.  The movie's final moments depict all of the guys (including the one who is going to die) running down the halls of the hospital playing their game, and generally disrupting the staff and other patients around them.  I don't remember the last time I prayed for a movie to fade out and bring the end credits.

To be fair, there is one moment of honesty in the film, and seems to be inspired by real life.  It's when a woman that both Bob and Chilli are competing over calls them "idiots".  I wanted to cheer for this woman who said what nobody else in the movie has the guts (or brains) to say.  But, out of respect to the other people in the theater watching, I remained in my seat.

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