“Can’t keep runnin’ away”, The Pharcyde proclaim in Runnin’, their 1995 single that bookends Tag. Elsewhere the music supervision department has worked overtime to cram in the classics (Danzig’s Mother, Ozzy’s Crazy Train, Ice-T’s Colors), but it’s that Pharcyde hook that sets up the film and its truth-is-stranger-than-fiction premise – what if you could keep running away, perhaps in a game of tag that’s lasted thirty years?
Bringing to the big screen a Wall Street Journal story about a real-life group of men doing exactly that, Jeff Tomsic’s debut feature has all the ingredients for an enjoyable ensemble comedy, but the film continually loses its way, with an uneven tone that screams identity crisis. One minute we’re watching a bunch of dudes riffing gags and busting each other’s balls, the next a woefully-miscast Jeremy Renner is evading funny guys Ed Helms, Jon Hamm, Jake Johnson and Hannibal Buress in sub-par physics-defying slo-mo action sequences, subjecting them to Jackass-level physical harm, or drugging them with the chloroform he keeps in his basement.
The overcooked script bears all the fingerprints of too many rewrites, and as the film wobbles along, one can’t help but ponder some questions: is Tag bleak absurdity or a charming celebration of friendship? Why are the tag scenes so shit? Are waterboarding and miscarriages actually funny? Is there any reason, beyond the obvious, that the male WSJ reporter who wrote the original story is played by a beautiful woman?
Every time Tag tries to exaggerate for effect, it strays too far from what the heart of the story really is. That would be the decades-long friendship of its characters and the simple stupidity of playing tag, even when its evolved into the over-the-top version we see in real life home video footage as the film ends. By the time this fictionalised account wrapped on an overly-choreographed, emotionally manipulative note, I’d laughed here and there, but was never remotely close to being won over by it.