Truth be told, the only reason I went to go see “Tag” wasn’t because this story of grown men playing tag every year for 30 straight years, but because this true story is based in my hometown of Spokane, Washington. To my recollection, this is the first major picture to be based in Spokane since 1985’s “Vision Quest” with Matthew Modine, so I was excited to see how they would portray the town I live in on the big screen and if they would show off it’s great beauty and wonderful sights, giving this worldwide audience a glimpse of what makes the Inland Northwest so special.
Unfortunately, the most we get is a title card that says “Spokane, Washington” and a banner that shows off the Spokane Lilac Festival. Other than that, it looks like they filmed this whole thing in California, not Washington. There are plenty of opportunities to reference iconic Spokane landmarks, like a bar they go to that isn’t an actual bar in Spokane (could have gone with Jack and Dan’s) or a country club in “Deer Creek” (there’s a small town outside of Spokane called Deer Park, so I’m not sure why they didn’t go with that). There are no landmarks addressed in the downtown, no establishing shots of Spokane, and they don’t use the city landscape as their personal playground.
Like most movies that claim they’re set in a smaller town, the film crew goes nowhere near the town it is set in and try to pass off northern California as any place they want it to be. Hollywood has always done this, but it just feels like a betrayal when you’re on the receiving end.
Beyond this, “Tag” still isn’t any good and fails to put its unique premise to any entertaining use. It is an unbelievably mean-spirited movie that never tries to give its characters any sort of redemption or likeable qualities other than being the butt of jokes. “Tag” never seems to be interested in the spirit of why these men go to such lengths to tag their friends, including dressing up as elderly women or hiding in the trunks of their cars. Instead, that’s replaced with a competitive sense of victory, in a game that has no winners, only losers and non-losers. In fact, that’s what all of these characters are – losers.
In this tale of the same five boys who have been playing tag since 1983, four of them decide to pool their talents and work together to bring down Jerry (Jeremy Renner) who has never been tagged in 35 years. These guys not only show up to Jerry’s wedding uninvited, but do everything they can to sabotage it in an attempt to make Jerry “it.” You’d think this would endear us to Jerry, since he’s done nothing but expertly avoid his friends all this time, but then he does equally despicable things, including threatening to kill a man so he can spend the next month in jail where he cannot be tagged.
I get that these men are supposed to be competitive and quick thinking – you’d have to be after playing the same game for so long. But each of them don’t treat it like a fun competition. They act like this is a life-or-death matter, as if something massive depends on the outcome of this game of tag.
Each of these men does terrible things over the course of the film that made me hate each of them, except for Sable (Hannibal Buress) who is there for comedic relief only. Ed Helms plays Hogan, who ditches his family, job and life hundreds of miles away from “Spokane” for several weeks. Jake Johnson plays Chilli, who openly lies about his relationship with his wife (at one point saying she’s dead, while another time saying they’re divorced when they’re not), while also mooching off of everyone else around him. Jon Hamm plays Callahan, who may seem like the stiff business man on the outside, but has been in a love triangle with another woman and Chilli since they were kids. Both him and Chilli continue to act like children around her and never commit to their feelings, especially when this woman is fine with being romantically involved with both men. At one point, all of these men combine their terrible qualities as they nearly torture an innocent man just to find out where Jerry is. It’s not just that these men treat life like a game, but that they have no remorse or concern for others while acting like petulant children.
Overall, there is very little funny or entertaining about “Tag.” Outside of Hannibal Buress’ unique style of comedy and Isla Fisher being her typical over-the-top self we came to love after “Wedding Crashers,” it never comes across like anyone is having fun. Each character is so wound up so tight into this children’s game, there’s no joy in any of it. Even then, they’re all so unlikable and mean-spirited that it’s hard to root for them in this game. While I went into this movie to see how Spokane would be represented, I was unfortunately disappointed by nearly everything about “Tag.”
Final Grade: D+