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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

‘Tag,’ the movie inspired by Spokane group’s long-running game, has its world premiere in LA

LOS ANGELES – It was the game of tag that spanned decades, and made headlines around the world.

Now, it’s officially a movie.

“Tag,” the comedy inspired by the decadeslong game played by a group of 10 Gonzaga Prep graduates, premiered at the historic Regency Village Theatre in the Westwood neighborhood of Los Angeles on Thursday night, with the majority of the film’s stars – Ed Helms, Jeremy Renner, Jon Hamm, Hannibal Buress, Jake Johnson, Isla Fisher, Leslie Bibb and Annabelle Wallis – in attendance.

Present, too, were the original 10 taggers: Mike Konesky, Chris Ammann, Joe Tombari, Bill Akers, Brian Dennehy, the Rev. Sean Raftis, Joe Caferro, Rick Bruya, Patrick Schultheis and Mark Mengert.

For a few of the GPrep 10, Thursday’s premiere was a repeat experience. Ammann, who now lives in Gig Harbor, Washington, saw the movie in Seattle earlier this week.

“I thought it was great,” he said. But, not trusting himself to be unbiased, he asked his boss, who also attended the screening. “And he said it was funny, too,” he added.

The film earns its R rating, he said. There’s some language and some nudity.

Oh, did Jon Hamm get naked?

“No,” Ammann said with a laugh. “It’s Pat Schultheis! The only nudity is one of us!”

The film’s end credits include clips and photos of the real tag players – among them, apparently, one of Schultheis in the altogether.

Tombari, who teaches geometry and physics at GPrep, passed over the chance to catch an early screening. “I wanted to wait until tonight,” he said, “to see it with the guys.”

Dining with the stars

But before the main event, the Spokane-raised taggers met to party – at Jeremy Renner’s house in the Hollywood Hills.


The GPrep 10 had dinner with Hawkeye from “The Avengers” on Wednesday night. Also there? Andy from “The Office” (Helms) and Don Draper from “Mad Men” (Hamm), among others.

“Oh my God, what a house!” recalled Ammann. “But it was so laid back.”

It’s all been part of a whirlwind trip to Los Angeles for these guys. On Wednesday, they headed to CBS Studios, where they taped a segment for “The Late Late Show with James Corden,” set to air next week. Thursday afternoon, they met with Lester Holt for an interview with NBC News. They’ve talked with foreign press as well.

In the words of Spokane’s Konesky, who has served as the group’s spokesman, things are “unreal right now.”

The guys, who graduated from GPrep in the early 1980s, started playing the game their senior year. They’d tag each other in the halls between classes and the guy with the misfortune to be tagged last would be “it” until the next day, when the game would renew.

The game fizzled after graduation as the players got on with their adult lives, mostly in places other than Spokane. But a few years later, some of the group were talking over drinks, and the idea of reviving their game of tag was brought up.

By the time a Wall Street Journal article about their game went viral in 2013, they’d been playing the same game of tag every February for 23 years. Whoever is “it” at the end of the month holds the title for the next 11 months until the game beings again.

‘We make it happen’

Now, five years later, they had the red carpet moment at the same theater that has hosted the world premieres of all of the “Harry Potter” movies, James Cameron’s 1984 sci-fi classic “The Terminator,” and Tim Burton’s 1989 “Batman,” among dozens of other films.

The Rev. Raftis, who now serves as a parish priest at St. Richards in Columbia Falls, Montana, and was the first of the friends to see the film at an early screening, said any worries he may have felt about the R rating were quickly quelled.

“There is a real sweetness to it – it’s about friendship,” he said, later adding that while so many reality-based films are grim, that’s not the case with “Tag.”

“It’s nice to have an uplifting story based on reality,” he said.

Asked what he hoped audiences would take away from the film, Tombari echoed Raftis. Friendship, he said, is the common thread that has held the game together for so many years.

Despite distance, families and jobs, the game keeps pulling them back together, he said. And that’s no accident.

“We make it happen,” he said.

Produced by former Spokane resident and fellow GPrep alum Mark Steilen (who also wrote the screen story) and directed by Jeff Tomsic, “Tag” is set in Spokane and was filmed in Atlanta.

While based on a true story, it has some key differences. Instead of 10 guys playing since high school, “Tag” tells the story of five friends who have been playing since first grade. The game coincides with the wedding of the only undefeated player, Jerry, played by Renner, making him the prime target for the rest.

The film, which is rated R, opens nationally on June 15.