I’ve been hard on cinematic comedies, but this year has already given us Game Night, Deadpool 2, and to a lesser extent Uncle Drew along with the US releases of 2017 films Paddington 2, The Death of Stalin, and Thoroughbreds, it hasn’t been a bad year at all for comedy. It’s also gotten me to be more open to trying other comedy films, even if this is one that is more of a catch up, left until all other interesting options were taken or playing at inconvenient times. The fact that it has a cast led by Jon Hamm, Jake Johnson, Hannibal Buress, Jeremy Renner, Isla Fisher, and the hit or miss Ed Helms combined with a high concept if silly premise, sure helped too.
The classic Twilight Zone episode “Kick the Can” posited that the secret to eternal youth was play, a charming and sweet episode that traded on the old idiom of “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing”. It’s a phrase TAG repeats ad nauseum and yet I couldn’t help but feel how much better that episode was at dealing with the subject and certainly more tonally consistent. Loosely based on the true story of a group of friends (played here by Helms, Hamm, Johnson, Buress, and Renner) who meet every year to play a game of tag for a month, they gather together for one final chance at tagging Renner, a man who has never been tagged before and plans to retire at the end of the month after his wedding. It’s a ridiculous concept and as the real-life footage shown during the credits prove, there’s plenty of that to draw from, the film curiously decides to repeatedly break any suspension of disbelief for no reason whatsoever. It ups the mayhem to the point where they are causing plenty of property damage, committing felonies, delivering what should be severe injuries to middle aged men.
It may sound petty to complain about efforts to spice up the action to make the tag action scenes more interesting, which frankly they aren’t with all the terrible slow-mo the fails in looking cool and comedically, but the film undercuts those efforts. First of all, it does so by taking itself way too seriously, filled with too many somber moments and attempts and poignancy. Not that really any of the comedy works either despite that talented cast that also brings in such people as Rashida Jones, Leslie Bibb, Brian Dennehy, Lil Rel Howery, and Thomas Middleditch in support, but at least lean into your strengths here. Secondly, by unnecessarily framing it with Annabelle Wallis (in a complete nothing of a role) following along as the Wall Street Journal writer who wrote the article that inspired the film, it does the film a disservice by mentally tying it to reality if they wanted to really get crazy.
Renner’s the highlight here, but he feels detached from the movie as a whole and there’s not nearly enough of him. They could have gone plenty of directions in this movie, the fun action-comedy of a Game Night, a reflection on aging and the changing nature of friendships, or just lean into the darker comedy that they occasionally flirt with but like way too many films anymore I’m left with the observation that it winds up just doing all of them poorly. It doesn’t seem to be all that fun, the action is terrible, it isn’t funny, and reflections are half-assed, and the darker comedy is just lazy shock humor. Recommended only if you find the idea of one man sucking another man’s dick inherently hilarious.