Review / ‘Tag’ (M) *

THIS movie starts with a claim of being based on actual events and ends with a shot of Russell Adams’s story in “The Wall Street Journal” about a game of tag that a bunch of grown-ups had playing for years across the US.

I had to research the game to discover its rules. I was mildly surprised to find that each game builds its own rules on a foundation of immutables. One player is “it”. When “it” touches another player, that other player becomes “it”. Each group can agree on subordinate rules but only by unanimous vote. Simple, ain’t it? When as a six-year-old I changed schools, I met a game called “British Bulldog”. Just another name for “tag”. And the pleasures of playing it were transitory indeed.

In Jeff Tomsic’s feature debut, after a career in short films and network TV series, one game has been going on since school days. Three decades later, one of the five players makes contact with three of the others for the first time since adulthood. Hoagie (Ed Helms) has great news. He knows where Jerry will be on a particular day.

Who’s Jerry? Played by Jeremy Renner, he’s the one member of the game who’s never, not ever, been “it”. Let’s get together, guys, and tag Jerry on the day at the place named in a full-page advertisement in a tabloid announcing Jerry’s wedding.

Tomsic apparently has never thought, or perhaps never dared, to question the screenplay by Rob McKittrick and Mark Steilen that a team of seven producers handed him and said “make a movie”. The kindest word for it is slapstick. Before colour and sound hi-jacked movies, slapstick was the staple fodder of comedy in relatively short movies. “Tag” runs for 100 minutes.

The cast is unmemorable. The only moments to show any sparkle are when Isla Fisher, whom Australian movie buffs may call Aussie although she didn’t get here till age four, playing Hoagie’s wife Anna, has centre stage – wonderfully brash, violent, foul-mouthed and several cuts above the rest. But not enough of her to lift a film using a screenplay that would be dead in the water if it had been blessed with intelligence. I have great difficulty fathoming which audience cohort its makers expected it to please.

At all cinemas

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