Review – It’s All Fun And Games Until… (“Tag”)

Based on a true story of ten middle-aged guys that kept playing ‘tag’ for 23 years and even videotaped their goofy exploits. This is also the movie where, after doing major stunts on actioners like The Avengers and Jason Bourne, Jeremy Renner fractured both his wrists doing this comedy. Hey, making a movie is dangerous!
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Gorgeous Wall Street Journal reporter Rebecca Crosby (Annabelle Wallis) is interviewing top insurance guy Bob Callahan (Jon Hamm) when all of a sudden, some crazy janitor attacks him and says, “Tag! You’re it!”. Shocked at first, then intrigued, she smells a story about five guys who, for decades have been playing the same game of TAG, but only for the month of May, and their ‘white whale’ is Jerry Pierce (Renner), a fitness guru whose NEVER been tagged. Ever! But this year is special; Jerry’s getting married and then retiring from the game. Oh no!

Faced with this revelation, manic-obsessed team leader Hoagie Malloy (Ed Helms) and his on-the-edge wife Anna (Ilsa Fisher), grab Bob and Rebecca and hunt down the other players: unemployed stoner Chilli (Jake Johnson), who never stops toking, and Sable (Hannible Buress), a man consumed with issues. Their prime objective? TAG Jerry sometime before, during, or after his wedding before time runs out in May. Seems like a piece of cake, right? Nope!

Y’see, Jerry is wily, unpredictable, and has a sixth-sense about where & when being tagged, which makes the scenes of him being slo-mo chased all the more fun and outrageous as you hear his thoughts. Think of the ‘bullet-time’ fights in Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes, and you’ll get the idea. These impressive choreographed ‘tag’ fights are clearly the best parts about the movie and are worth the price of admission alone. Thrown into the mix is Miss Throw-Away Plot Device: Rashinda Jones as Cheryl Deakins, an old flame of both Chilli and Bob’s, lured to the wedding by Jerry to cause tension in the group.

Anyway, the gamers nutty plans aren’t working and quickly escalate to ridiculous heights until the dark and totally unexpected humorless ending. WTH? This is supposed to a wild ‘n’ wacky comedy, right? WHY spoil it with a Debbie downer of an ending? Seriously?! Credit that with screenwriters Rob McKittrick (Waiting) and Mark Steilen (The Settlement), both guys having never written full-on comedies in their career. Thank God there was director Jeff Tomsic at the helm. In his big-screen directorial debut, Jeff knows a thing or two about comedy directing, having done TV series like Wrecked, Idiot Sitter, and more.

Because of this, you get an odd combination: moments of pure LOL comedy next to unfunny, boring asides that drag the movie down. Still, you can’t argue in the chemistry with the actors. Helms and Fisher radiate, Johnson and Jones have a choice scene that is electric, and Hamm looks like he’s having SO much fun with Burgess & Wallis. There are many scenes where you swear nobody is acting; they’re just fooling around and the camera is rolling; they look so relaxed and having a blast. It’s a shame the script didn’t generate that same feeling.           

 
Tag: The Assassination Game (1982)
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Based on a real college game in the 70’s & 80’s, this quirky film combines frat movies with a curious comedic melange of a 50’s murder-mystery noir, and all from the man who gave us The Last Starfighter and Major Payne, filmmaker Nick Castle.
 
From an opening that parodies the 80’s James Bond opening credits, we see a non-descript college campus and several gun-wielding students running around, closing in on their kill… but their ‘guns’ are really plastic and their bullets are suction-tipped darts. Yes, it’s a popular game there that many are playing where it’s “kill or be killed”, and each player is given a dossier on each other by the Tag chairman, Nick Carpenter (noted radio DJ Frazier Smith). Given the current bout of campus gun violence, this movie would NEVER be made today!
 
Anyway, our story concerns two main young people: Tag player Susan Swayze (a pre-Terminator Linda Hamilton) and a cigar-chomping school reporter named Alex Marsh (Robert Carradine), who reads old time detective novels and dresses like Humphrey Bogart. After a chance meeting, Alex wants to do an in-depth story on this weird campus game but, his real goal, is getting to know Susan more. While his (*ahem*) investigation is going on, really obsessive Tag player Loren Gersh (Bruce Abbott) becomes unhinged after he gets accidentally “killed” and decides to take this game to the next level… using the real thing!
 
Using a real gun, Gersh’s next victims start to disappear and reports slowly start to come in, starting with Susan’s roommate (ex-porn star Kristine DeBell). As the game continues,  both Susan and Gersh racks up the points in their ‘kills’, while Alex is falling in love with the pistol-packin’ mama. Ah, but Susan is an independent women, afraid of true love and spurns Alex’s affections… that is until the Tag finals, where she is pitted against the murderous Gersh and she’s about to be killed. Will Alex figure out that Gersh is a psychopathic killer? Will he rescue Susan in time? Will Gersh and Susan get married in real life after the movie is over? (That last part is true, BTW)
 
Written & directed by Nick Castle, this flavorful little gem is hard to describe or even categorize. A murder mystery/comedy/college love story/film noir? Yes! Castle somehow combines all these elements into one picture without any hoke or Naked Gun-ish silliness. From the smokey blues jazz music to the effective use of lighting and shadows, Castle directs this movie just like a 50’s noir detective film, right down to the frosted glass doors, old typewriters, telephone operators using those plug-in jacks, cigar & cigarette smoke curling in the air, and all of this on a modern college campus? Brilliant!
 
And the actors, all playing it serious and cool, make this movie something special and not some forgotten Animal House B-film. Carradine (from the great family house of Carra-dine) is excellent, Hamilton looks and plays it like a young Loren Bacall, and KMET radio personality Frazier (“Too Hip, Gotta Go”) Smith couldn’t act at all, but he was the BIG draw for the movie’s 80’s demographics. Abbott is sufficiently creepy as Gersh and, believe it or not, married Hamilton after filming wrapped, only lasting seven years.  Also look for young Michael Winslow, the human sound effects kid, and a very young Forest Whitaker as a bodyguard; this was his film debut!      
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