By Kurt Jensen
NEW YORK (CNS) — Some rituals of childhood bonding are best left in the past. The cringe-inducing “Tag” (Warner Bros.) is a perfect example.
The plot is loosely based on Russell Adams’ Wall Street Journal article about 10 classmates (one of whom is now a priest) from Gonzaga Prep in Spokane, Washington, who found a way to keep a game of tag going into adulthood for more than 20 years.
Employing outrageous disguises, travel and complicated strategies, this went on each February. At the end of the month, whoever was “It” stayed that way for a year.
The film, directed by Jeff Tomsic from a screenplay by Rob McKittrick and Mark Stellen, gets this down to five friends, the merry month of May, and an unpleasantly high raunch factor.
Hogan “Hoagie” Malloy (Ed Helms), with his aggressive wife Anna (Isla Fisher) egging him on, is the most intense player; Bob Callahan (Jon Hamm),is a successful executive willing to abandon his business responsibilities on a moment’s notice.
Kevin Sable (Hannibal Buress), is the deadpan thoughtful player with mental health issues. And pot-smoking Randy “Chilli” Cilliano (Jake Johnson) is jobless, divorced and drifting.
They share a motto: “We don’t stop playing because we get old. We get old because we stop playing.” So the competition is a way of keeping their youthful connection.
The fifth member of the group, Jerry Pierce (Jeremy Renner), a prosperous gym owner, has never been tagged — the result of physical prowess, speed and expert wiles. Not only can he outmaneuver his opponents, they also never know when he’s serious.
The plot centers on the other four attempting to finally tag Jerry as he’s getting married to the unctuous Susan Rollins (Leslie Bibb). Merely showing up is not at stake.
The game also allows for an elaborate, constantly changing, list of “amendments” that have always omitted women participants and that put certain events — such as the exchange of wedding vows — off-limits. As a result, the four cling to their belief that the entire ceremony is just a ruse with paid actors.
There’s a slow realization that there’s no way to actually “win” at this, but by that point, the continuous property-destroying mayhem and crotch-level gags have run their sour course. A subplot about Cheryl Deakins (Rashida Jones), a girl on whom most of them had a crush, meanders into coarse sexual imagery.
The film contains skewed moral values, physical violence, drug use, partial nudity, references to aberrant sexuality, fleeting profanities and pervasive rough language. The Catholic News Service classification is O — morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
Jensen is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.