Sunday, June 17, 2018

Tag (2018) Review

2018 is shaping up to be a pretty good year for the kind of broad, mainstream comedies I usually hate. First we had Game Night, which managed to walk a very fine line between bubbly charm and dark, David Fincher inspired grittiness, and then Blockers re-contexualized the all in one night “gotta get laid before an arbitrary milestone” sex comedy through a modern progressive lens. Even the new Melissa McCarthy movie this year Life of the Party, while by no means good, was more in line with the inoffensively bland ones like The Heat or The Boss rather than the offensively terrible ones like Tammy or Identity Thief. And now this week we have Tag, a fun, silly little movie built on character interactions, dialogue, and clever set pieces instead of shock value, pop culture references, and endless improv that goes nowhere. Its the kind of movie that gives me hope for the state of modern comedy, which will almost certainly be dashed whenever I finally get around to seeing that Overboard remake, or Action Point, or I Feel Pretty, or Show Dogs. You know what, forget everything I just said.

Had it not been for the Goldbergs style home movie montage at the end, I would not have known that Tag was based on a true story, because it is a legitimately crazy set up that you would think would only happen in a movie. It’s about a group of adult friends who have been carrying on the same game of tag since they were kids, taking one month out of the year to chase each other around for bragging rights and keep their camaraderie alive across time, distance, and family obligations via the dumbest full contact sport conceivable. When the only one of their group to never be tagged decides to retire after his wedding day, the others agree to a temporary alliance in order to finally catch up to him, only to be continually stymied by his Sherlock Holmes style deductive combat skill and insanely agile CGI arms. Yeah, look that up for yourself, because I barely noticed it in the film so I can’t exactly criticize it, but its still a bonkers testament to the limitless potential of modern day filmmaking.

Any ensemble comedy lives and dies by its cast and its character work, and admittedly it feels like Tag is cheating a bit, assembling a group of actors you’ve seen in other comedies before playing types of characters you’ve seen them play well before, and just sort of mixing them together into a new context. Ed Helms is the same doofy everyman from The Office, Isla Fischer is the manic firecracker from Wedding Crashers, Jon Hamm is smarmy but affable, and Hannibal Buress is ponderous and deadpan. Oh, and Jake Johnson is that guy you kinda remember as the vaguely stonery comic relief character from that movie or TV show you never watched. Is it stacking the deck a little bit to have all these comedians playing to such easily recognizable types? Sure, but they mesh so well together and it works well enough that you’ll probably be willing to forgive it and just go along for the ride.

The standout, and this surprised the hell out of me, is easily Jeremy Renner. It’s not that I dislike Renner as an actor, it’s just that he’s the only member of this troupe without an obvious past comedic performance to draw any sort of expectations from, with the closest thing being his bizarre cameo in The House last year, which was more funny for the stuff that was happening to his character rather than anything he brought to the role. That he can shift so effortlessly from something like Wind River to Tag showcases a range that I wish he’d been given the opportunity to indulge in more before now, and I hope he keeps finding chances to step out of the gritty action drama box he’s been put in so often. He’s still playing the smooth, super competent action hero type, making me think this might just be what Hawkeye does when not shooting arrows at aliens, but in the margins he captures a willingness to let loose that indicates he’s having so much fun in that way that encourages you to have fun along with him.

That sort of encapsulates the whole movie for me. It doesn’t demand too much of its audience and just keeps trying to find clever and inventive ways to play around with its oddball premise. For example, you get Renner’s Sherlock style tactical narration throughout, but before it can get old, you get the same set up but with the other characters’ much less bad-ass inner monologues. Its so enjoyable to just watch the increasingly elaborate ways Renner’s character evades his pursurors and their feeble attempts to counter his gambits, especially knowing how many of these scenarios were apparently just as over the top in real life. One scene in particular set in the woods outside of a golf course escalates to an inspired level of silliness that feels like the perfect execution of the film’s central conceit. It even lets itself get a little dark now and then without spoiling the mostly upbeat tone, most notably in an assault on an AA meeting that sets up a running gag involving a miscarriage that culminates in easily the funniest line of dialogue in the entire movie.
Tag isn’t perfect by any means. There’s a love triangle subplot that basically goes nowhere, a whole character that follows the main cast around but doesn’t really add anything to the plot, and the ending gets a little too maudlin for my tastes, choosing to emphasis the larger theme of the groups enduring friendship where it seems to beg for a more cynical twist to undercut the schmaltz. It’s likely not something that will go down as a classic you go back to years from now, and it probably won’t end up on too many best lists, but its more than enjoyable enough to be worth the ticket price, if only to encourage more movies like it and less movies like, well, all the other movies that shoot for laughs but invariably fall flat. Tag gets the big stuff right and even manages to be a little heartwarming by the end, moving fast enough to never let the seams show or overstay its welcome, and it may be my incredibly low standards for modern comedies talking, but I think that’s good enough. Also it doesn’t have Melissa McCarthy in it, and if I gave letter grades, that would merit a whole grade up in my book. 

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...