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Reel Talk: June 15, 2018

June 16, 2018

Life isn’t a game — or is “it”? In the case of the new film “Tag,” “inspired” by true events, why shouldn’t life be a game? After speaking with these real-life game players, it certainly seemed like the very successful, well-educated group found the fountain of youth in maintaining a childhood game.

In the early ’80s, a group of 10 boys at Gonzaga Preparatory School started an innocent game of tag. The game continued throughout their college days and well beyond an age and a stage considered to be appropriate to play schoolyard games.

Wall Street journalist Russell Adams wrote a story about this unusual group of “boys.” The story went viral, and now, this feature film just might be one of the big summer blockbusters. Starring Jon Hamm, Jake Johnson, Jeremy Renner, Hannibal Buress and Ed Helms, director Jeff Tomsic brings writers Mark Steilen and Rob Mc- Kittrick’s words to life, reminding viewers that maintaining connections and having fun in life is what it’s all about.

The film differs slightly (just slightly) from the real story as we witness five adult men going to extraordinary lengths to tag one another during the month of May each year. From disguising themselves in job interviews to breaking and entering, each of them develops intricate schemes, but this year is going to be different.

Jerry (Renner) has never been tagged in the 30 years of playing, but Hoagie (Helms) is gathering the rest of the gang to make sure that he does. Jerry’s wedding date, occurring during their annual game month, is precisely when the team will strike, ending Jerry’s reign as the best player.

Hoagie is the ringleader, a veterinarian who, in the opening scene, is applying to be a janitor in a large company. He dreams of cleaning urinals in the company headed by Bob Callahan (Hamm).

Donning a fake mustache and janitorial supplies, he catches Bob off guard and tags him as Rebecca (Annabelle Wallis), the Wall Street journalist, looks on incredulously. Dropping everything, Bob and Hoagie catch a flight to secure Randy (Johnson), a bit of a stoner living in Denver, with Rebecca along for the ride.

After tagging Randy and then Kevin Sable (Hannibal Buress), the team is complete and all hell breaks loose as the four find they are no match for the wily ways of the well-trained and exceptionally agile Jerry and his bride-to-be, Susan (Leslie Bibb).

Once again, truth is stranger than fiction, or perhaps I should say it’s funnier. Never in a million years would I have thought it possible that grown men would drop everything to participate in such wonderfully childish games.

This cast finds a way to depict five very unique personalities with such skill that it inspires you to lighten up and maybe even play a game as you leave the theater. (Yes, tag was being played as viewers left their seats and it made everyone smile.)

Helms repeats his comedic persona in this film as the happy yet emotional hubby, not quite satisfied in life. Renner’s role requires athleticism and precision — again, a role this actor has perfected.

And Hamm shows us a lighter side to his acting skills with precise execution of dialogue to make us laugh and love him even more. These actors could easily have been childhood friends, growing up and in different directions, yet there truly is an underlying connection between them.

Isla Fisher plays Anna, Hoagie’s wife, with the intensity and humor I fondly recall from her role in “Wedding Crashers.”

There’s an interesting cinematic element to the film, too. We get to hear the thoughts of these men with a voiceover as they attempt to tag another member of this very closed group.

We get inside their minds, understanding how well they understand each other. And the camera angles seem to capture the state of mind, particularly Randy’s frequent altered state and the use of slow motion as these middle-aged men attempt quick maneuvers and reactions. These elements work wonderfully together to bring us into this quirky and hilarious story.

“Tag” is just plain fun with a sprinkle of ridiculousness and a large helping of friendship. While you’re laughing at the antics, you’re also being reminded of the importance of friendship, connections and continuing to play ... you’re really never too old, but as the film says, you only get old when you stop playing. I don’t know about you, but I certainly want to stay young. Let the games begin!

Watch for the full interview with two of the “Tag Brothers” coming soon.

3½ out of 4 stars.