The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan



Tag sounds like it would be really funny. It has a premise seemingly ripe with comic opportunities, especially since it's based on a crazy true story. In fact, there are some genuine laughs in the first ten minutes. Then they stop almost altogether, and the realization sets in that this movie is a one-trick pony. Despite a great cast and a humorous concept, the film treads water for 100 minutes, becoming tiresome long before it's over.

Inspired by a story that appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the picture is about a group of friends – Hoagie (Ed Helms), Bob (Jon Hamm), Chilli (Jake Johnson), Sable (Hannibal Buress), and Jerry (Jeremy Renner) – who have been playing the same game of Tag since they were kids. Each May, they do another round. The hitch is that Jerry has never been “It,” so the others are determined to get him this year. He, however, is adamant about continuing his winning streak at all costs.

Isla Fisher co-stars as Hoagie's wife Anna -- who isn't officially a player but nevertheless has even more intensity about the game than the guys -- and Annabelle Wallis is Rebecca, a WSJ reporter who (no pun intended) tags along to watch the proceedings. Rashida Jones is here, too, as Cheryl, Bob and Chilli's childhood crush who pops back up in adulthood to reignite their competition.

This is an excellent group of actors, all of whom are fully committed to the material. Unfortunately, that material is weak, despite the message about how it's important for adults to maintain contact with their inner children. Attempts at sincerity might have felt more true if the characters were developed instead of being one-dimensional. Chilli is a stoner, Bob is successful but insecure, etc. Understanding why each man wants to win so badly would go a long way toward selling the idea that these adult males are still little boys somewhere inside.

A no less significant issue is that the humor is too exaggerated. It would be funny to watch adult men running around surprising one another and using creative means of tagging. Tag takes everything to an absurd extreme, though, with elaborate chase scenes and characters doing things that no person in real life could ever do. (Jerry, at one point, utilizes a massive swinging battering ram in the woods.) Slight exaggeration is funny with a premise like this. Over-exaggeration, on the other hand, is antithetical to reality-based comedy. Tag is all over-exaggeration.

Perhaps most frustratingly, the film has one joke, which it repeats over and over. The guys try to find a way to tag Jerry, he eludes them, and then the scenario is enacted again. The subplot with Cheryl – which is totally arbitrary and goes nowhere – was presumably included to break up the monotony of the game. It doesn't work. Any comedy value the premise has dissipates the longer things go on, yet we're forced to watch it continue to play out on a loop.

Each successive repetition of the primary gag ups the ante, proving to be more absurd than the one before. That builds to a rather tasteless stunt pulled by one of the characters in the third act, which might have been darkly funny had Tag made more of its tastelessness. If you're going to go dark, you'd better be prepared to fully embrace that darkness. Wimping out isn't an option.

Tag ends with home video footage of the real guys playing their game. It's funnier than anything in the movie. They hide behind cars and wear costumes to sneak up on each other. Instead of being angry when tagged, as their fictional counterparts are, they laugh jovially. Something about that is charming.

The film is innocuous enough to watch, yet utterly missing any such charm, to its great detriment.

( out of four)

Tag is rated R for language throughout, crude sexual content, drug use and brief nudity. The running time is 1 hour and 40 minutes.

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