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The Bizarre True Story Behind Jeremy Renner, Jon Hamm, and Hannibal Buress’ New Comedy TAG

Do you remember the rush of playing Tag? The sheer thrill in the chase! The jolt of adrenaline as you escaped a friend’s clutch! The crushing shame upon being snagged as “it”! Well, the joys and mayhem of this childhood game will be played out on the big screen in the upcoming action-comedy Tag. Jon Hamm, Jeremy Renner, Hannibal Buress, Ed Helms, and Jake Johnson star as five friends who devote one month a year to a no-holds-bar game of tag where nothing is sacred, and tag-backs are forbidden. But don’t think this story is based on a silly kids game. Tag was actually inspired by the infamous (and willfully silly) “Tag Brothers”: a group of adult men who’ve spent their real lives in a heated, seemingly never-ending competition of tag.

Every February since 1990, the Tag Brothers have played a goofy grown-up version of this children’s game that’s led to cross-country flights, elaborate disguises, episodes of breaking and entering, bombardments in board meetings (and at funerals!), and a by-standing wife ending up with a torn ligament. Not a one of these 10 real-life grown men wanted the shame of being “It” for the 11 off-season months each year. Naturally, this brand of male bonding gone bonkers is the perfect launchpad for comedy.

“A lot of the tags [in the movie] are based on real tags that they actually did,” producer Todd Garner informed Nerdist when we visited the Atlanta set. “Because the truth of this game is often so much weirder than fiction.”

Garner explained the film specifically reenacts the moment that made the Tag Brothers famous. One such Brother, an exec at Nordstrom, was being interviewed by a Wall Street Journal reporter when one of his competitors tore into the corporate setting to ambush and tag him. In the film, Hamm’s stiff Callahan, a character the Mad Men star describes as “taking the piss out of Don Draper a little bit,” is caught off guard in an adaptation of the aforementioned scenario by his pal Hoagie, played by Ed Helms. Gender-swapping the reporter role, Annabelle Wallis plays the flabbergasted interviewer who becomes fascinated with this feisty fraternity and follows them on their last epic season.

“In real life, there’s been tags at births, funerals, inceptions of kids, for real,” Garner said. “One guy was tagged when his wife was going to chemo. It seems awful, but it really just is an excuse for them to come together. So he was in the hospital with his wife, and they came to be around him and support him, and they tagged him.” Garner noted there will be no chemo scene in Tag. However, the wives do get in on the fun as Isla Fisher plays Helms’ better half, who loves the game as much as the guys do.

Helms is the central figure of the film and “the heart and soul of the game,” according to Garner. “He’s a guy who has loved this game, and he’s really been hyper-aware of what the game means to the group and what it does for the guys, that it actually holds these guys together.”

Filling out the group, Jake Johnson plays Chilly, a stoner and recent divorcee who could stand to have his competitive side urged, and Buress plays Sable, whose brushes with this annual tag game have made him so paranoid that he’s turned to therapy. Nerdist got to watch as his session (with a psychologist played by Carrie Brownstein!) is invaded by his overzealous friends. Director Jeff Tomsic was encouraging improvisation on set, so we rarely heard the same punch line twice. But free-for-all comedy isn’t all Tag has in store.

Hamm told us Tag treats the action from the perspective of its players. So scenes where they chase and dodge each other are shot like full-on action sequences. “The movie is like a pretty hard-action movie,” Hamm shared. Naturally, the cast member that leans hardest into these stunt-filled scenes is action star Jeremy Renner.

Loosely based on the Tag Brothers’ most elusive member, Renner pulls from his action hero skills to play Jerry, who Johnson describes as “untouchable” when it comes to the getting tagged. In Tag, Jerry announces this will be his final tag season, so the gang must team up to tag him before he retires undefeated. But Johnson revealed that’s no small feat, as Jerry’s escapes are “Jason Bourne-esque.” Speaking about a church-set sequence, he said, “It’s shot like an action movie but it’s ridiculous. But you’re still watching Jeremy Renner parkour up a wall and jump through a stained glass window.”

The Tag cast has not met the real Tag Brothers, who are in no way involved with the film’s production, but the stars seemed inspired by the brothers’ lust for life, and look to embrace that in Tag. “You know, when I tell people [about] the beginning five minutes of the movie, they’re like, ‘Wait, that really happened?'” Hamm chuckled. “It really happened. People really do this crazy s**t.” But Hamm was quick to point out there’s a core of brotherly love at the center of this story, saying, “I think the fact that it’s based on [the Tag Brothers’] story gives it a little bit of a heart to it. It’s not cynical. It’s very adult, but it’s not cynical at all.”

Tag will hit theaters June 15. Which celebrity would you like to play Tag with? Let us know!

Images: Warner Bros

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