Five friends have played the same game of tag for nearly thirty years, reuniting each year in May. When one of them wants to quit the game for good on his Wedding Day, the other four must tag him before so he doesn’t end with a spotless record.
Hoagie (Ed Helms), Bob (Jon Hamm), Chilli (Jake Johnson–from New Girl), and Kevin (Hannibal Burress–from Girls) have never been able to tag Jerry (Jeremy Renner), and it’s eating them alive. The length they go to in order to catch him are stunning and ridiculous–and true (mostly). He evades their often buffoonish tactics with zen-like John Wick-level precision. Their chase sequences are both hilarious and energetic, filmed both frenetically and crisply. Tag, a movie about a child’s game, is filmed as though it were an installment of the Kingsman series, and it’s just as much fun.
Tag‘s strongest element is its heart, which runs throughout the film and can be felt just as thoroughly as the action-comedy. The inside jokes and references demonstrate a layered depth of friendship without excessive exposition and info dumps. These friends know each other inside and out, and the annual game they play has bonded them together–regardless of where life has taken them, the game brings them back together each year.
The relational chemistry between each of the friends shines through clearly. Hoagie is most passionate about the game, rounding up the friends to make one final stand against Jerry, determined to tarnish his record. Helms plays him with an earnest fervor that draws both the audience and his friends in. Johnson’s Chilli is perpetually stoned, contrasting Hamm’s type-A corporate CEO Bob, while the always lovable Burress plays Kevin as that friend who tolerates his fellows’ zaniness with aplomb. Each friend contributes to the group dynamic, doing what many films fail to do: make you actually want to hang out with those friends even more.
Even their respective families get into the game as well: Isla Fisher plays Ed Helms’ wife–an ultra-intense wannabe tag player, while Leslie Bibb is Renner’s uptight (seemingly) killjoy fiancee, and their way of bonding with their significant others and the friend group is through the game of tag.
Just like that game, the film is infectious in its joy and exuberance. They don disguises, create elaborate traps for one another, and make truces and pacts to get Jerry. At times, the friends take the game too seriously, but the film justifies that intensity. While so many films about adult male friendships turn into one of two diatribes on either growing up and abandoning all the fun that you had in the past or remaining eternal manboys who don’t have to care about anything important, Tag reminds us that you don’t have to lose the joys of childhood, nor do we need to live as though we are children, forsaking responsibility. Tag tells us to purposefully find joys in life, intentionally forging and maintaining bonds with friends and loved ones, even when it looks ridiculous and pointless to everyone else.
Tyler is a teacher, librarian and the Co-host of The Geek Card Check Podcast. He has been a Film Critic for Ready Steady Cut since 2018.