Ed Helms, Isla Fisher, Jake Johnson, Jon Hamm, Rashida Jones, Leslie Bibb, Jeremy Renner, Hannibal Buress
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…a film that is not only funny but rather exciting in its workings…
Comedy can take a variety of forms, from slapstick to satire and everything in-between. However, one of the fundamentals of telling a joke is being able to sell it properly, not just double-back with laughter at your own material. The more straight-faced the joke-teller, the less self-conscious winking to the audience, the better it comes across. This film, about a group of grown men playing a years-long game of tag, is an amazing example of this in action.
An ‘inspired by actual events’ story about a group of men who, well into adulthood, still play tag like they’re back in the playground, this is less comedy in tone as much as a thriller. It takes a generational idea that life events only get bigger and more complicated as you get older and applies it to a schoolyard pastime, resulting in a film that is not only funny but rather exciting in its workings.
The main group all work together exceptionally well, from Ed Helms’ frequent moments of disguise humour to Jake Johnson as the resident stoner/paranoid participant; even Isla Fisher as Helms’ way-too-into-this-game wife manages to shy away from her usual annoying schtick. The banter all lands, they all treat the main premise like it’s something to be taken seriously and all score major laughs. And then there’s Jeremy Renner, who may have injured himself pretty badly during the course of doing his own stunts here, but that dedication still led to a great helping of action cheese to this already-sumptuous comedic offering.
Tag follows in the wake of films like Game Night, which also use exaggeration of a seemingly-mundane activity to great effect, in that it takes its rather surreal premise as seriously as possible. And that, in turn, results in a lot of chuckles. Watching the characters go to such Liam Neeson-level extremes just to win a silly game works out very nicely, doubly so since the scenes themselves range from the thrilling to the chilling to the potentially unnerving.
Even though this film gets into dark territory, up to and including literal torture, it helps that writers Rob McKittrick and Mark Steilen knew well enough to ease back whenever they’re about to cross a line. They take risks, but none so drastic that it sours the experience around them. Because this film isn’t supposed to be something taken all that seriously; it’s meant to be enjoyed for what it is and who is playing, much like any game played with friends.
And that, ultimately, is the biggest statement this film has to make: playing games with friends brings them closer together, regardless of who ends up winning in the end. It grabs onto the modern cinematic conceit of adults learning how to be adults and, through a lot of tense, funny and even heart-warming moments, shows that there’s really nothing wrong with being a kid at heart. Just… try not to take things too seriously.