'Tag' Review: This All-Over-the-Place Manchild Comedy Isn't Quite 'It'

Jon Hamm, Ed Helms and a crack cast almost save this stunted-adolescence goof about an epic tag game from falling apart

'Tag' makes the most of a great comic cast, including Jon Hamm, Ed Helms and Isla Fisher – but it's still not "it," sats Peter Travers. Our review. Credit: Kyle Kaplan/Warner Bros. Pictures

Welcome to an R-rated summer funfest ... with the substance and staying power of a helium balloon. It's a trip, at least until the laughing gas sputters and evaporates. Based on a true story (reported in a 2013 article in the Wall Street Journal), this comedy foillows a group of fortysomething manchildren who meet up one month out of every year to play the infantile game they’re been obsessing over since First Grade. It's a competition that revels unashamedly in the male need to compete as a way of expressing a bro bond they're unable to verbalize – physically tackling each other leaves few emotional bruises. What we're saying is that Tag has a subtext, but don't worry: Debuting feature director Jeff Tomsic (Broad City), working from an insert-improv-when-needed script by Rob McKittrick and Mark Steilen, rarely lets anything force meaning into his cinematic marshmallow.

It's the actors who carry the day, and their spirit is infectious. Ed Helms plays Hoagie, who takes a custodial job at a firm run by Bob Callahan (Jon Hamm), just so he can tag the CEO when he least expects it. He pounces when the executive is being interviewed by a reporter Rebecca Crosby (Annabelle Wallis); she decides the tag story is way more interesting than Callahan. So the journalist joins them as they criss-cross America to round up the rest of the team. Sable (Hannibal Buress) is in the middle of a therapy session when the gang grabs him. The divorced Chilli (New Girl's Jake Johnson) is too stoned to resist. Their target is the fifth player, Jerry (Jeremy Renner) – a fitness guru who hasn't been tagged since the game began over three decades ago.

The plan is to catch their elusive prey at his wedding on May 31st, the last day before time runs out for the month. "We get Jerry now or we die," seethes Hoagie. Do these guys have jobs, families or other friends? Well, Hoagie has a wife, Anna (the terrific Isla Fisher), who encourages him to play with an intensity that would be scary if she didn't nail jokes about her eagerness to change the game's no-girls-allowed rules. Jerry's bride-to-be (Leslie Bibb) also proves to be a formidable and sneaky opponent.

And so the gags come tumbling down. It's great to see Hamm drop his Don Draper brooding to exercise his impressive comic chops; is bantering scenes with the quick-witted Johnson have a bounce that rolls easily over the plot absurdities. Their attempts to reconnect with a girlfriend-that-got away (Rashida Jones) resonate beyond the call of farce duty. Renner, who broke his arms in an on-set accident early in the shoot, shows dexterity to spare, and Buress is a riot just reacting to all this nonsense. But it's Helms who expertly reveals the reasons for Hoagie's desperation to tag Jerry and say those crucial two words: "You’re it."

As a movie, Tag is all over the place, with gags too hit-and-miss to cohere into anything truly memorable. But the partytime atmosphere – as if Dodgeball mated with Game Night – might be just what you're looking for on a hot summer night. With these actors, there’s no downside to watching them let it rip.