Blu-ray Review: Tag

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A great cast makes Tag (now available on Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment) easy enough to watch, but the overly thin premise (based on a true story) doesn't provide enough depth to make it truly memorable. A group of middle-aged friends has been playing the same game of tag since they were all in grade school. As adults, the month of May is reserved for the antics, in which these guys will stop at nothing to tag one another. In a way, the fact that this unlikely scenario actually plays out on a yearly basis in real life (as chronicled in a 2013 Wall Street Journal article) kind of legitimizes what otherwise feels like somewhat of a fantasy.

I probably shouldn't spoil the "twist" ending, which is meant to lend heartfelt gravitas to the proceedings. The problem is, that ending (foreshadowed throughout, for those adept at picking up clues) sinks the entire film. What was clearly meant to be a happy-go-lucky, embrace-your-inner-child blast of feel-good coziness turns into a rather sour, depressing, confounding affair. Up until then, there are laughs to be had. The group is led by Hoagie (Ed Helms), who rounds up the usual suspects to go after the one member of their group who has avoided being tagged—thereby being made "it"—for the entire 35 years they've been playing.

The reason Hoagie is so hot-to-trot this year is that Jerry (Jeremy Renner), the un-tagged one, is getting married in May and for once the group knows exactly where he will be. So Hoagie contacts Bob (Jon Hamm), Randy (Jake Johnson), and Kevin (Hannibal Buress) to corner Jerry, who they underestimate will be a sitting duck. Rebecca (Annabelle Wallis) is the WSJ journalist intrigued enough to cover their story (she witnessed Hoagie's May kickoff while interviewing Bob in his workplace). Hoagie's maniacal wife Anna (Isla Fisher), not officially a member of the game (no girls allowed!) but a willing accomplice, is along for the ride.

Tag director Jeff Tomsic structures the narrative around wild set pieces that show the men in full-on tag mode. These guys won't hesitate to waterboard someone (well, okay, they go so far as to threaten someone with the torture tactic) if it'll help them find Jerry. The element sorely missing from Rob McKittrick and Mark Steilen's screenplay is any depth at all in the characters. They're all super into playing tag, but beyond that... Let's see, Randy is a pothead. Kevin is lactose intolerant. Jerry is a fitness coach. Hoagie's mom (Nora Dunn) is a New Age space cadet. But these little scraps add little to our understanding of why the on-going game is so important to these guys (and gals, as Anna is a player all respects, with the exception of being able to be made "it").

And for those who have seen Tag, allow me to broach the ending... And please note: this is a spoiler so stop here if you haven't seen Tag and are planning to. Okay, warning delivered, here goes... Hoagie, it turns out, has terminal cancer so this will be his final year playing the game. This is revealed at the end, turning the climax into something of a medical drama as the friends console Hoagie and Anna. This is such a tonal blunder, it renders Tag something entirely different than what I think the filmmakers intended it to be. And there's nothing bittersweet or touching about the handling of the tragic scenario. It's a downer, especially following a very mediocre comedic first 3/4ths that only registered on the strength of the cast members' enthusiasm.

Warner Bros. Home Entertainment's Blu-ray edition gives us a six-minute reel of unrevealing deleted scenes, a typical gag reel, and—more interestingly—a too-short featurette "Meet the Real Tag Brothers" (five minutes, expanding on the brief closing credits footage we see in the film). The real guys have to be more interesting than the one-dimensional characters in the film, so it's too bad the filmmakers didn't incorporate more of their actual personality traits.
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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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