Tag looked intriguing at first. A group of actors and actresses that we all enjoy, plus a “look at those wacky bros” premise, are sometimes all you need for a summer hit and a few laughs. What we ultimately got, however, was the worst-case scenario: A relentless movie with no actual forward propulsion, where it feels like its funny stars were handed a subpar script and asked to make it shine. They can’t, and it doesn’t.
Hoagie (Ed Helms), Bob (Jon Hamm), Chilli (Jake Johnson), Sable (Hannibal Buress) and Jerry (Jeremy Renner) have been best buds forever. What’s their secret? A never-ending game of tag that takes place every May. They spend the month traveling across the country and hunting each other down, with one exception: no one has ever tagged Jerry. This is because he’s an insane person, but the socially acceptable form of insanity where you can run a business and marry an attractive woman despite being willing to smash church windows.
Most of these guys have been funny elsewhere, but not here. Ed Helms was the voice of heart and/or reason in comedies like Cedar Rapids and The Hangover, so of course Tag saddles him as the perpetually frustrated pal who has his actions retroactively justified through a clunky late reveal. Jon Hamm gets stuck playing “funny because he’s handsome and rich” and not “funny because he’s a dumb hunk,” the latter being easily his best comedic speed. The only one who stands out is Buress, mostly because his extended ramblings feel unscripted and natural. Everyone else exists to move things along under a thin veneer of comedy.
It may sound like there aren’t any women in this movie; there are actually a few but, given their screen time and relevance, they might as well wear signs that say “afterthought.” Isla Fisher gets to yell a bunch as Helms’s intense wife; Leslie Bibb plays Renner’s better-half-to-be; Rashida Jones pops in to inspire a very brief amount of tension between Bob and Chilli. The best you can say about Tag screenwriters Rob McKittrick and Mark Steilen is that they didn’t force Annabelle Wallis’s follow-along journalist character into a relationship with any of the single dudes. But “achieved a bare minimum of logical restraint” is not much to hang your hat on.
And good lord, the lack of chemistry between Helms and Fisher is staggering. They exhibit almost zero signs of affection; beyond Helms’s arm constantly being slung over Fisher’s shoulder, plus the occasional mention of kids, you’d never know they were an onscreen couple. There hasn't been a romantic duo this awkward together since Ricky Gervais and Tea Leoni in Ghost Town. It’s a waste of Fisher and does nothing for Helms, another odd misfire in a movie packed with them.
These sorts of comedies live and die by how the group fits together. The aforementioned Hangover series, in particular, had the perfect mix of handsome, nerdy, weird, and Bartha. But the Tag gang is a bunch of very parallel dudes; only Buress and Renner stand out. The stakes are low, the jokes are minimal, the plot is clever but thin. If you have nothing to do and want to smile without actually laughing, there are worse ways to spend 100 minutes. But not many.