‘Tag’ catches audience’s hearts, and funny bones

By Chic DiCiccio

The trailers for “Tag” are a bit deceiving. Sure, it’s based on a true story about grown men playing a game of tag for 30 years. They wear disguises, infiltrate the other player’s workplace, and risk bodily harm in order to simply lay a hand on another guy. It’s silly, hilarious and surprisingly clever in how the “action” is presented.

But deep down, “Tag” is really about friendship. It stays firmly planted in zany comedy land while subtly sprinkling in enough heart to bring some water to your eyes by the end. It also features some of the best performances from many of the cast, who keep “Tag” about as believable as possible.

The premise of “Tag” is fairly simple: four childhood friends team up to finally tag Jerry (Jeremy Renner), the fifth member of their game who has not once been tagged. “Hoagie” (Ed Helms), an overwhelmingly positive fella, organizes his pals and they head off to their hometown of Spokane in an effort to beat a distracted Jerry while he prepares for his wedding.

Each member of the group fits a typical comedy stereotype, but it’s all so well written and acted that it’s easy to overlook. Bob Callahan (Jon Hamm), a successful pharmaceutical CEO, seems to be bankrolling this whole gambit and their game is only documented after a Wall Street Journal reporter (Annabelle Wallis) is bored with a profile on him. Bob and Hoagie pick up the neurotic Sable (Hannibal Buress) and Chili (Jake Johnson), an unemployed stoner, on the way and the game is officially on.

One person swoops in and completely steals “Tag” from the five guys. Isla Fisher is a crazed, riotous delight. She’s Anna, Hoagie’s wife, and not only does she help the gang try to get Jerry, she seems to be the main driving force behind it. She screams out brutal obscenities and insults while forcing these man-children to focus on the task at hand. Fisher is such a comedic talent that she seems wasted in terrible movies, but “Tag” takes full advantage of her.

All the other roles are perfectly cast, but this is easily Ed Helms’ finest acting to date. He is first billed and deservedly so as he has the most screen time. While he’s still quite funny, Helms also brings gravitas to “Tag.” Yes, he does go to ridiculous extremes while hatching schemes to beat Jerry, but he’s responsible for bringing the small amount of drama to “Tag” and he actually does it extremely well.

There are some moments in “Tag” that are completely insane but for the most part, director Jeff Tomsic doesn’t go too far overboard. It does get a bit stupid during one particular sequence when a guy gets drilled with a swinging tree trunk then gets up and walks it off.

If “Tag” has a fault, it’s that it goes slightly over the top with action while hoping to be grounded in reality.

There’s a fair amount of hype surrounding “Tag” and it actually deserves it. It’s rare for a comedy to tug at your heart without becoming an eye-rolling, corny mess. It definitely takes advantage of its R-rating and is in the mix for 2018’s best adult comedy to date.

Make sure to stick around for the credits too. There’s actual footage of the real people’s game of tag … followed by a very special musical performance by the cast.

Ed Helms in “Tag” (2018). Photo courtesy of Broken Road Productions