‘Tag’: In dopey comedy, nobody’s a winner

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Hoagie (Ed Helms, right) chases Chili (Jake Johnson) in “Tag.” | NEW LINE CINEMA

Deep into the astonishingly dopey, odiously off-putting and thoroughly unfunny “Tag,” one of the main characters says, in all sincerity:

“This game brings out the best in us.”

No. It really doesn’t. It brings out the worst in all of you. It turns you into a bunch of insufferable, violent, selfish, creepy jerks who have ruined some of the most pivotal moments in each other’s lives, including (but not limited to) the birth of a child and the funeral of a parent.

All in the name of playing tag. As in, “You’re it!”

As you might have heard, this would-be piece of … fiction was inspired by the real-life story of a group of friends from Spokane, Washington, who played an ongoing, month-long game of tag every year for more than two decades.

When the Wall Street Journal published an article about the game in 2013, Hollywood took notice — and within weeks, the group had sold the movie rights to their story.

Now, you might be thinking this is a mighty thin premise for a feature-length film. A newspaper article, sure. Maybe even a documentary short. But a full-length feature about five friends (it was 10 friends in real life) in their 40s who regress into behaving like reckless dip-bleeps for an entire month once a year, all in the name of playing a meaningless game with no real rewards other than saying, “You’re it!”

Seems like a stretch, right? Unless the filmmakers came up with some creative and intriguing and movie-sustaining additions to that paper-thin premise, this hardly seems like the best launching point for a major motion picture.

No such luck.

Despite the best efforts of the greatly talented cast, “Tag” is a deadly drag, filled with uninspired slapstick gags, cardboard characters that practically dare us not to like them or root for them, and a heavy dependence on stoner jokes and dialogue ranging from penis jokes to pot jokes to penis jokes to … more pot jokes.

Let’s meet the morons!

Ed Helms is Hoagie, a veterinarian who takes a job as a janitor just so he can tag his buddy Bob Callahan (Jon Hamm), a successful and preening insurance executive.

Jake Johnson is Chilli, an aimless pothead with no wife, no job and no interests beyond getting stoned all the time.

Hannibal Buress is Sable, who is seriously paranoid and spends much of the story on the sidelines, making observations that sound more like a stand-up routine than anything a character in any movie would ever say. (“Why does biweekly mean twice a week AND every other week?”)

Over the course of the last 30 years, each of the above goofs has been “it” countless times — but none of them has ever tagged Jeremy Renner’s Jerry, not even once.

Jerry’s speed, self-defense capabilities and strategic acumen would make him a good candidate to be in a “Bourne” movie. (Hey!) Whenever one or more of the boys come at Jerry, everything moves in slow motion as Jerry describes in voice-over what he’s seeing and how he’s going to evade a tag.

And then he dodges his friends by choking them, bludgeoning them, catching them in elaborate traps and mocking them for their physical and psychological failings.

Good times!

The male characters in this story are poorly drawn, but they’re “The Usual Suspects” compared to the female characters.

Annabelle Wallis plays the WSJ reporter who arrives at Bob’s company for a standard profile but then winds up accompanying the group to Jerry’s wedding, because she’s a journalist and dang it, THIS is a story.

Leslie Bibb plays Jerry’s disturbingly cheerful fiancée, who is in great need of some decaf (and a character rewrite). Isla Fisher scores a couple of laughs as Hoagie’s wife, who’s more intense and competitive than the guys — but isn’t allowed to play in the game. The terrific Rashida Jones looks as if she’s wandered in from a different movie as she plays Cheryl, the object of Bob’s and Chilli’s childhood affections. (As Bob and Chilli compete anew for Cheryl’s attentions, she calls them “idiots,” and all we can do is nod in agreement.)

Of course “Tag” ends with a dissolve to grainy, home movie-type footage of the real-life guys as they tag one another — with the moment almost always ending with laughter and hugs. In those snippets, they seem far more likable and decent than their fictional counterparts. The good news is, Jon Hamm and Jeremy Renner and Hannibal Buress and Ed Helms and Jake Johnson are going to play you guys in a movie! That bad news is, it’s THIS movie.

We’re not even halfway through 2018, but when it comes time to compile my list of the worst movies of the year, I have a strong sense there will be a moment when I’ll be saying to “Tag”:

You’re it.


New Line Cinema presents a film directed by Jeff Tomsic and written by Rob McKittrick and Mark Steilen. Rated R (for language throughout, crude sexual content, drug use and brief nudity). Running time: 100 minutes. Opens Friday at local theaters.

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