Tag film review: A high-octane slapstick charmer

TAG, photo Kyle Kaplan via WB Media Pass
TAG, photo Kyle Kaplan via WB Media Pass /

Films based on a true story can be hit or miss. Luckily, Tag is centered around one of the most charming and bizarre true stories ever adapted to the big screen.

Even if some of you have not played the actual game before, the concept of the game of Tag should be something of a universal term. Tag, the classic game where people chase each other in hopes of making contact with them to officially brand them ‘it’, is still a popular activity for children and young adults to play to kill some time. Of course, with friends growing up and apart, it’s difficult to play when everybody lives miles away from each other. For the group of childhood friends in the new comedy, Tag, distance is no excuse.

Tag tackles (quite literally) one of the most intriguing true stories to appear on the big screen. in 2013, Russell Adams, a writer for The Wall Street Journal, covered a story about a group of friends who have been keeping a strangely bonding tradition every February: For the entire month, a game of tag is active between the friends in which it is almost no-holds-barred. The men have tagged each other at their respective jobs, during funerals, at the golf course, you name it.

Their fascinating story has now gotten the Hollywood treatment, with the likes of Jeremy Renner, Jon Hamm, among other talented actors playing composites of the real men involved in this tradition. But how does the movie do the story justice, if at all?

TAG, photo Kyle Kaplan via WB Media Pass
TAG, photo Kyle Kaplan via WB Media Pass /

A 30 year game

The real story of the Tag friends involves more random and unexpected bursts of tag. The movie is not as wild and sporadic as the story, but it still contains elements of the story’s true nature. Tag follows Hoagie (Ed Helms), one of a group of childhood friends who discovers that Jerry (Jeremy Renner), the undisputed champion of the game with a perfect record, is planning to quit after his wedding at the end of May, their official tag month. Smelling blood in the water, Hoagie and the rest of his friends (Jake Johnson, Jon Jamm, Hannibal Buress), along with his wife, Anna, (Isle Fisher) and a curious Wall Street Journal reporter (Annabelle Wallis) who is covering the story out of a bizarre fascination for it, head to Jerry’s wedding in hopes of finally breaking his record. Now, we have the equally fascinating comedy, Tag, on our hands.

TAG, photo Kyle Kaplan via WB Media Pass
TAG, photo Kyle Kaplan via WB Media Pass /

Though the film does not tell a historically accurate accounting of the real story, Tag‘s story still places the idea of friendly competitiveness at its central core to stabilize the film’s incredibly over-the-top personality. Tag’s comedy is equal parts physical and verbal, with the main actors consistently riffing as they continue to put themselves in harm’s way in order to tag Jerry. In fact, the film’s comedy borders on absurdist nonsense, often to emphasize the ‘seriousness’ of the situation.

One of the tag escapades leads into a borderline horror parody sequence in the woods, which highlights the film’s absurd atmosphere. Though it isn’t consistent throughout, the film’s tag sequences each have a childlike nature to them, perfectly emulating the nature of the real story, even if the hard facts don’t have as much attention put into them as the comedy.

The Tag  Squad

TAG, courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures /

Tag‘s comedy get a major boost from an ensemble cast that keeps the film light-hearted and humorous throughout. Leading man among them is Ed Helms, who is arguably the most dedicated Tag member of the group. Bringing together the gang to tag Jerry, Helm’s Hoagie has the most childlike nature to him, riding the fence on being stuck in the past and having enough perspective to analyze the situation when needed. His character will not cause any deep discussions about the complexity of comedic writing, but Helms brings his usual nerdy charm to an otherwise underwritten character.

In fact, it’s hard to call any one character in Tag well-written. There’s enough to make each character stand out in certain scenes (the real show-stealers being Jeremy Renner’s action hero-like Jerry, the chill and quirky Hannibal Buress and the extremely competitive Anna in Isla Fisher), but nobody has a character that one can really bite their teeth into in terms of their motivation.

Fortunately, the actors add much-needed personality to the group’s dynamics, which is strange considering each character’s seemingly distant relationship with each other. The group is comprised of friends that seemingly shouldn’t be friends anywhere else, but for the game of tag, it just works, speaking volumes on the effect the game has on their lives.

TAG, photo Kyle Kaplan via WB Media Pass
TAG, photo Kyle Kaplan via WB Media Pass /

Annabelle Wallis’ Rebecca, who is following the story and witnessing first-hand the lengths these friends will go to tag each other, is the best example of an audience character in this strange story. She will often be utterly baffled at how this game is even still a thing for these guys. She unfortunately does not get much of a chance to stand out among the film’s stellar cast and performances, but with her role, she really doesn’t need to. I will say that she does tell one of the film’s best jokes about two-thirds into the film regarding the state of modern journalism. You’ll know it when you see it.

An action thriller inside a buddy comedy

It is a FAR stretch to call Tag an action-comedy-thriller, but the comparisons are well-warranted. The film’s tag sequences don’t simply revolve around friends chasing each other in fun and innocent bursts of childlike fun. These friends take the game more seriously than one can even fathom, going as far as gaining jobs at each other’s jobs to tag the other, among other crazy circumstances. Better yet, newcomer director, Jeff Tomsic, makes the most out of his debut when filming the tag sequences, constructing legitimately intense and creative action scenes revolving around the game of tag.

TAG, photo Kyle Kaplan via WB Media Pass
TAG, photo Kyle Kaplan via WB Media Pass /

With the crazy situations the friends end up in, the film has an awkward seriousness to the action. The characters sell the situations as something akin to a slick action thriller, which is reflected in the film’s visuals and cinematography, heavily emphasizing cheesy slow-motion bits and Jerry’s inner monologue hilariously assessing the situation. It’s almost like a Jason Bourne-esque style of tag, but mixed with a witty and fast-paced script that bring the laughs, even when the tones conflict with one another. The film rarely has any serious moments and when it does, it isn’t delivered with the same cleverness as the comedy and the action are. But considering how rarely this film takes itself seriously, it is not an issue I imagine many people will have after the film ends.


Game Night, released back in February, took comedy and brought it into a crime thriller environment, or it at least tried to. But Tag, low and behold, managed to come across as a genuinely exciting slapstick action comedy that felt like a true mix of genres. Yes, at its core, Tag is a comedy about the unbreakable bond of a group of friends that favors tradition to keep the group spirit alive, but the film’s mix of clever and well-shot action sequences and an overall emphasis on outrageous comedy helps elevate the film beyond the standard American buddy reunion comedy.

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Tag‘s absurd and bizarre atmosphere may turn some people off, but for me, it feels as though it perfectly captures the equally absurd real story of friends going above and beyond to tag each other. The emotion in the film is real and always tied to the idea of friends staying connected through a seemingly innocent game, which makes it one of the most surprising heartwarming and charming films of the year so far. It may not be remembered as a comedy classic down the line, but the film’s slick action sequences, clever script and energetic performances make Tag more than worthy enough to be ‘it’.

Final Verdict: 7/10

Tag is out now in theaters!