Based on the amusing true story of a group of friends who have continued to play tag since childhood, this comedy about friendship and growing-old-but-never-growing-up is one of the year’s most pleasant surprises. Jeff Tomsic’s film is based on the 2013 Wall Street Journal article ‘It Takes Caution, Planning To Avoid Being ‘It’’. This is woven into the narrative as a reporter (Annabell Wallis) follows the man she was supposed to profile, CEO Bob Callahan (Jon Hamm) as he and his childhood friends reunite to go to Jerry (Jeremy Renner)’s wedding. The game runs for one month every year and stealthy and ninja-like Jerry has an immaculate record: he has never once been caught after decades of playing. The gang have decided that this is the year he gets tagged.

I usually break into hives when it comes to man-child / blokey comedies, but this one really worked for me. Tag could have been a cookie-cutter comedy straight off the studio conveyor belt. Instead, Tomsic has understood that the promising script needed to be elevated by some excellent slapstick comedy, and he delivers the goods in spades. The cast are all game, aside from Annabelle Wallis, who sadly confirms that her charisma-deficient turn in last year’s The Mummy was no one-off. Hamm and Hannibal Buress stand out, as the former gets to stretch his comedy chops and the latter proving that there’s no deadpan punchline he can’t ace. The real MVP though is Isla Fisher, as the lunatically competitive and foulmouthed wife of Hoagie (Ed Helms); she steals every scene she’s in and ensures that a possible sequel would be something to look forward to.

The first half of the movie is undeniably stronger, as the second bogs itself down with uneven tonal shifts and one specific gag that may be too risqué for a lot of people. Still, as dark as the joke is, it at least highlights that the film is keen to push the boat out and avoid the play-it-safe pitfalls that often plague bromantic comedies. The film’s attempts to tap into earnest avenues about friendship in the last stretch don’t entirely work, but Tag remains a strong and silly ensemble comedy that gets proper mileage out of its brilliantly simple concept. Despite a few slip-ups, it’ll be hard not to leave the cinema without a stupid grin on your face and the burning desire to give someone a tag.

Tag | Directed by Jeff Tomsic (US, 2018), with Ed Helms, Isla Fisher, John Hamm, Hannibal Buress, Jeremy Renner. Starts July 26.

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