TAG -2018

Director Jeff Tomsic
Screenplay Rob McKittrick, Mark Steilen
Starring  Ed Helms, Jake Johnson, Annabelle Wallis, Hannibal Buress, Isla Fisher, Rashida Jones, Jon Hamm, Leslie Bibb, Jeremy Renner

There is no winning these days when it comes to watching trailers. If one sees enough in a trailer, it makes you wonder if you’ve seen too much. The Marvel movies have gotten around this problem by including scenes in their trailers that are altered or were never intended to be in the film. A mid budget comedy like TAG is not going to have the resources to do this, but they definitely would have benefited. I wanted to watch this film the moment I found out the cast and the premise. I didn’t need to see almost anything else. That didn’t stop some executive from showing it though.

The reason I start with the trailer is obvious. Most of the action you see in this film – literally 75% of it – has already been in one or more of the commercials for TAG. The disappointment of knowing where each scene ends up really dampened my enjoyment of what is already a considerably average film. The biggest surprises that are left are in who plays Jake Johnson’s father (they look very similar) and the fact that it’s still worth watching.

The premise of the story is based on a real life group of friends who grew up in Spokane, Washington playing a game of TAG together. Each year, the whole month of May, all bets are off. The title of the book the film is based on, It Takes Planning, Caution to Avoid Being It, gives a good indication of what could happen in this month. Originally developed as a project for Will Ferrell and Jack Black, it ended up starring the kinds of folks one might expect to star in an average comedy. And Hannibal Buress.

This is not meant as a slight for anyone but Ed Helms.

The movie goes to some preposterous lengths, indicating the participants have more money than sense. Watching the footage during the credits would imply that it’s not just bad script writing that would put Helms in a wig, walker and old lady clothes.

Still the film gets to you eventually. No one in this film is horrible, even if no one is really all that funny. Johnson gets the most attempts at humor. I suppose a few of them might work better if they’d allowed the viewer to not see him lighting up for maybe one moment. Still, through it all, he’s got some undeniable charisma.

Buress is one of those forces that I suspect is hamstrung the most in a film like this. He always looks like he’s holding a better joke in there somewhere. Or even worse, they left his better joke on the cutting room floor. He still manages to give the best lines of the five friends, even in his muted state.

Jon Hamm is one of the most frustrating performers of his era. The humor, charm and danger he presents as Don Draper has only been approached once in a movie with Baby Driver. Everything else comes out muted, like he does here. He has fewer moments of genuine charm in this film than someone who has his obvious depth should. That his biggest moment in this film involves being threatened to have his throat caved in is not the best use of his talent.

Playing right up to his level of talent is Ed Helms. He’s Mr. Average Comedy of our time, if one considers the comedy of our time to be slightly below average. I do like and appreciate that someone has to play the straight guy. He is definitely filling that niche.

His wife is Isla Fisher. I don’t ever see her enough. She’s willing to do almost anything in the effort of the game, and it is charming but it’s also sad, until the end of the film. Fisher has real comic chops and it would be nice if she were in more good films. Spending ones time raising three kids is truly a more noble effort, though, so no complaints here.

Jeremy Renner is the guy who’s never been caught. The lengths he goes to avoid his friends is somewhat exhausting and just a little sad. He got the kind of injuries one might get in a Mission Impossible movie while making this film. It comes out in the final product, and might be fun for those who haven’t already seen it in the trailer.

Jeff Tomslic has directed one other film, a short with friend TJ Miller called I’m Having a Difficult Time Killing My Parents. I saw the trailer for that, too. There weren’t that many good moments in it. But that’s likely due to the fact that it starred TJ Miller.  He’s done more than a little bit of television comedy that I have managed to avoid thus far in my life. I will consider it a wash by having seen this movie.

In the end, I had some fun trying to figure out which parts of the movie were filmed in Spokane proper, which is where my wife grew up. Nothing in the film was bad, if one can consider the destruction of significant sections of a church gymnasium and a reception hall a good thing. The film will be more fun for those who can avoid seeing any of the trailers.

The last five minutes is usually when a comedy has petered out. This one plays the sap routine, but somehow it still won me over. It wasn’t necessarily wasted time, seeing this insignificant comedy play out about adults who have better things to do wasting their time playing a kids game. It makes me wish I had spent my youth in more wasteful pursuits like this.

(*** out of *****)


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