Venue reviews: TAG

For all the superficiality promised by its premise, TAG delivers just the sort of overblown idiocy you might ask of a summer blockbuster. Like The Hangover and other films in the ‘boys gone rogue’ genre, Jeff Tomsic’s action-comedy is an exercise in schoolboy camaraderie and immaturity, which would’ve been charming if it hadn’t been weighed down by a baggy script crammed with aimless dialogue and hit-and-miss dick jokes. But despite its noticeable drags, a cast of energetic clowns ultimately gel to provide an undemanding dose of dumb fun.   

Based on the human-interest story published in The Wall Street Journal in 2013, TAG follows five old school friends who’ve stayed close by playing the same game for 30 years. Lead by lovable prankster Hogan “Hoagie” Malloy (a labrador-like Ed Helm) the boys dedicate one month a year to an all-out game of tag, putting their jobs, relationships and dignity on hold for a chance to win the game for another year.

Now wielding the means and freedoms of responsible adulthood (and here that’s a dubious phrase), it’s clear to see how far beyond the schoolyard the ‘game’ has developed. We see Hoagie practically beg for a janitor position at a high-profile publishing firm, just to get close enough to hot-shot buddy Callahan (Jon Hamm) to slap him with the incriminating “It!”

The others take it just as seriously; whereas the grounded Sable (Hannibal Buress) drops his therapy session to play slapsies with the crew, full-time stoner “Chilli” (Jake Johnson) is the group’s conspiracy theorist, who can’t help but see every situation as a potential tag-trap. The game even seems at points to have permeated the group’s love lives; Hogan’s wife, Anna (Isla Fisher) is perhaps more thrilled by the game than anyone else and traverses the group’s ‘no girls allowed’ rule by coaching her husband with the intensity of about six coked up wolves.

But the competition isn’t without an underlying bitterness. The group’s fifth member – Jerry – has never been tagged, and his untarnished record haunts the group with Moriarty-like smarm. Upon hearing that Jerry is to be married in the coming months, Hoagie joins forces with the remaining three to bring the tag master down. The game – now more than ever – is afoot.

Under the ad-hoc script of Mark Steilen and Rob McKittrick, TAG finds itself inevitably depending on delivery, which struggles to hold water even despite the strong cast. The first half is strongest, making use of a rather uncertain reference to Sherlock Holmes. Renner swings between the elusive supervillain and Robert Downey Jr.’s Holmes (his acrobatic evasion sequences even mimic the 2009 film in ridiculous slow motion), while Helms works his lovably pathetic role in The Hangover into a rather sweet lead, counterbalanced marvellously by a fantastically ‘extra’ Isla Fisher.

Jon Hamm is delightful to see stepping outside the po-faced Don Draper, who plays high-status clown with such confidence that it saves his inconsequential spates of bickering with Jake Johnson’s permanently-stoned ‘Chilli’.

Hannibal Buress is possibly the standout, simply for his continual bemusement at the chaos caused by the group’s competition. With amusing exasperation, Sable acknowledges the ludicrousness of Tomsic’s chosen subject matter so the viewer doesn’t have to, at many times rescuing the film from the borders of awkwardness. Pitted amongst the boundless tomfoolery is Annabelle Wallis, who is a welcome source of dry humour as the Wall Street Journal reporter who covered the true story.

The second half wavers considerably. Original jokes lapse into prolonged babbling and repetitive sentiments, and ‘edgy’ humour is used as a last resort to revivify the waning comedy. In its best moments, it simply falls flat. At worst, it’s offensive for the sake of it; one scene contains a tentatively delivered abortion joke, which rather than generating any significant reaction, merely wafts into the void after being drawn out for far too long.

But as with the original Wall Street Journal story, there’s admirable heart located at the centre of TAG’s bizarre bromance. Though often falling flat amid repetitive jokes and a threadbare script, the movie’s comic ensemble shifts impressively between shoulder-punching humour and dewy-eyed friendship, which ultimately culminates in an acceptable, if the entirely dispensable celebration of eternal youth.

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February 2021
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