TAG: Catch Me if You Can
A lot of us, when we were young, had some stupid activity we liked to engage in with our friends that was fun at the time but generally something we grew out of. Perhaps it was a recreational summer game like paintball, capture-the-flag, or just plain water balloon warfare, and often it was played with intensity, and, for creative or competitive types, complexity. And for whatever problems there may be with the comedy TAG, from first-time director Jeff Tomsic, it does tap into the nostalgia of that kind of dumb fun and does a good job representing it.
Inspired by the real-life story of a group of men from Spokane, Washington who’ve played a month-long game of tag for over thirty years, the movie follows five men who engage in the same activity to elaborate ends every May. With the never-been-tagged champion Jerry (Jeremy Renner) retiring after his wedding this year, his old friends Hogan (Ed Helms), Callahan (Jon Hamm), Chilli (Jake Johnson), and Sable (Hannibal Burress) team up for one last shot to tag him. Following them is a journalist for the Wall Street Post (Annabelle Wallis) taking their story, and Hogan’s crazed wife (Isla Fisher).
Right from the start, where Hogan gets a job at Callahan’s company just to tag him, the movie forecasts it’s going to be over-the-top and ridiculous. And this is exactly what it is and where the focus of the comedy is. Despite their age, the characters are very immature when it comes to this game and go to extreme lengths to get the drop on each other, especially Jerry. And there is some decent slapstick that comes out of this, even if it’s tampered slightly by the clear stunt work and lack of any relatable pain for realistically injurious accidents. A lot of the big sequences are shot like an action thriller movie, with some inventive cinematography. One chase involves recurring cuts to a bodycam like it’s a Darren Aronofsky film (or, for a more obscure British comedy reference, Sir Digby Chicken-Caesar). Another sequence is shot guerilla style in a forest with markers of horror. The one technique that’s perhaps a little too derivative though and starts to get tired more quickly than the others is Jerry’s slow-motion inner monologue when averting his friends’ attack. It’s essentially a parody of Guy Ritchie, primarily the style with which he portrays quick thinking and ingenuity in his Sherlock Holmes films. And though the movie knows to do something different with in on the third time, it doesn’t retain its novelty much past the first scene it’s used in. TAG also incorporates small doses of sight gags and dark humour, a few of which get a laugh but are never outrageous or unconventional enough to really stick. As over-the-top as this movie got, it could have used a bit more of the surreal. It also would have benefited from some stronger writing.
The cast are all pretty good though. Despite how obvious it is that Helms, Hamm, and Renner are clearly a number of years older than Johnson and Burress, the chemistry between this group of childhood friends is tangible (except for Burress, whose detachment from everything going on around him actually does make for a funny presence). Each of the guys gets a really funny moment or two, and so does Fishers’ character, who’s left out of the game for no good reason. The men mention there was a “no girls allowed” rule when they were kids, but she’s even more intense about the game than they are, and it’s a bit of a lame excuse from a story perspective –it’s not asking too much for the audience to believe a girl would be friends with a group of boys. Wallis, as the straight character observer doesn’t leave an impression nor does she get much opportunity to be funny. The movie also features Rashida Jones (really wasted for a pointless subplot), Thomas Middleditch, Leslie Bibb, and a cameo by Brian Dennehy.
The plot itself is quite formulaic, and as in a lot of comedies like TAG there is an attempt at a serious message. Like the real story it’s based on, the guys play tag annually as a way of keeping in touch and maintaining their friendship; and the film does address the theme of growing apart, particularly with regards to Jerry. And while I wish it had gone a little farther with the aspects of their lives they’ve neglected to keep each other informed about, there is a genuine heart in this.
It’s a movie about friendship, long-lasting friendship, and keeping friendships alive, whether through juvenile or mature means. For some, the hijinks and often broad comedy may get in the way of that message coming across authentically. I think it was just sincere enough.
TAG is an above average comedy that has its share of the flaws that regularly plague American movies in this genre of late. It’s utterly harmless, which makes it a little forgettable, but it has fun, heart, and enough good laughs to be worth your time if you’re looking for a little light entertainment as a summer distraction.