"Tag" - ★ ★
The un-touching comedy "Tag" has nothing wrong with it that a half-dozen rewrites and a few more passes through the editing software couldn't improve.
The opening credits tell us that a true story inspired this undisciplined, sloppily written, R-rated comic ode to lifelong friends and their collective inner child.
Yet, very little of it feels inspired, outside of the hilarious closing credits during which the cast's disembodied heads sing the Crash Test Dummies song ""Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm" with ridiculous sincerity.
This sputtering hit-and-miss-and-miss comedy opens with Hoagie Malloy (Ed Helms) telling us in voice-over narration how he and his four buds have played tag for 30 years, starting in grade school.
Later, Hoagie and the boys explain their tag obsession to possibly the worst reporter ever employed by The Wall Street Journal, Rebecca Crosby (Annabelle Wallis), who apparently has no qualms about breaking into people's homes or being part of a group intending to waterboard an uncooperative clerk so she can write some high-quality journalism.
Hey, if characters must share the history of their tag game to a reporter anyway, why waste time explaining it during an earlier voice-over?
Hoagie and his corporate friend Bob Callahan (Jon Hamm), weed-smoking pal "Chilli" Chilliano (Jake Johnson) and laconically droll sidekick Kevin Sable (Hannibal Burgess) think this year they might finally say "You're it!" to the elusive Jerry Pierce (Jeremy Renner), the acrobatic ninja warrior of tag.
They discover that Jerry plans to marry Susan (Leslie Bibb), and if the guys can find out where he's tying the knot, they might finally thwart his perfect untaggable record.
The physical punishments meted out to these players look so comically painful that you think "Jackass" star Johnny Knoxville might pop up in a scene or two. (Regrettably, the film's funniest stunts and climactic confrontation have been strip-mined by Warner Bros. for trailers.)
Perhaps as an afterthought, screenwriters Rob McKittrick and Mark Steilen decide later in the story that characters should issue funny inner monologues, mostly Hoagie and Jerry, during confrontations captured in "Wonder Woman"-like s-l-o-w m-o-t-i-o-n.
Isla Fisher can't do much with Hoagie's wife Anna, a one-note character trotted out periodically to launch into insane competitive fits encouraging the guys to tag Jerry at all costs. (She would make a good addition to the tag team, but its young founders created bylaws prohibiting girls as members.)
Rashida Jones pops in as Cheryl, an old flame of Hoagie's returning home after her husband dies. Sparks don't fly.
The writers don't seem to know what to do with the reporter -- who could have functioned as a delicious comic foil -- so she spends most of the movie lurking in the background like an extra.
"Tag," the inauspicious feature directorial debut of native Chicagoan Jeff Tomsic, earns enough laughs to keep viewers engaged, but nearly alienates them with a barrage of misfiring jokes about miscarriages.
Three things highlight "Tag" -- Burgess' extra-dry delivery that turns declarative sentences into power punchlines; the closing credits; a crazy, weed-influenced chase; and video footage of men from Russell Adams' Wall Street Journal article "It Takes Planning, Caution to Avoid Being It" going to outrageous lengths to tag each other, even in the shower.
But what does it say about a feature comedy when the funniest parts come from the source material it's been inspired by?
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Starring: Ed Helms, Jon Hamm, Jake Johnson, Jeremy Renner, Hannibal Burgess, Annabelle Wallis, Isla Fisher, Rashida Jones
Directed by: Jeff Tomsic
Other: A Warner Bros. release. Rated R for drug use, language, nudity and sexual situations. 100 minutes