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"It's just such a sweet premise," Ed Helms tells PEOPLE

By Mike Miller and Kara Warner
March 20, 2018 09:42 AM
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The true-story behind perhaps the world’s longest running and most intense game of “Tag” is racing towards the big screen with an all-star cast.

Jon Hamm, Ed Helms, Jeremy Renner and Hannibal Buress are just some of the star-studded names appearing in Tag, an upcoming comedy loosely based on a charming and hilarious 2013 profile of their real-life counterparts in the Wall Street Journal.

For nearly 30 years, Patrick Schultheis and nine of his childhood friends have been embroiled in an epic match of schoolyard “Tag.” The game died out for awhile after they graduated high school, but about eight years later at a reunion, Schultheis came up with an idea to revive the game and keep their friendship alive at the same time. Then a first-year lawyer, he drafted a contract titled “Tag Participation Agreement” that laid out some basic rules, and all ten friends signed on.

The plan worked. Now middle-aged men, Schultheis and his buddies are closer than ever and continue to play the game every February, traveling all over the country — and enlisting the help of each other’s wives and coworkers — to tag one another in a variety of creative ways. The last person to get tagged in February is forced to carry the shame of being “It” for the rest of the year.

“It’s just such a sweet premise,” Helms, 44, who plays a composite of several real-life “Tag” players, tells PEOPLE. “It’s funny because I feel like it’s one of those stories you can only turn into a movie because it’s real. If someone came to me with this premise, and was like, ‘Yeah, it’s a bunch of grownups who play tag,’ I would’ve thought, that’s really corny and dumb. But because the guys really do it, suddenly it’s really kind of sweet and I don’t know, a poignant thing.”

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Credit: Kyle Kaplan

“Well I can honestly tell you that when we started playing the game many, many, many years ago, we did not expect that there would be a movie made about it,” Schultheis tells PEOPLE with a laugh. “We were just ten guys who thought we had a clever way to stay in touch.”

Over the years, the guys have gone through increasingly outlandish lengths to catch each other by surprise — and nothing seems off limits. For example, Schultheis personal favorite memory is the time he got tagged at his father’s funeral, a move he thinks would have made his old man proud.

“My dad loved the game,” he said. “One of my last conversations with him was about the Wall Street Journal article and how absurd this all was that anyone would care about these ten middle aged idiots playing tag.”

His second most prized memory, a story Schultheis says he’s never repeated, occurred when a friend nicknamed Bruiser got tagged in late February while living in San Francisco. Instead of bearing the burden of “It” for the rest of the year, Bruiser drove straight to Seattle where another friend, nicknamed Beef, was living in an apartment complex with his newlywed wife. Somehow, Bruiser convinced the concierge at Beef’s building to let him up to the apartment. When Beef’s wife answered the door, expecting it to be the building manager, Bruiser burst through the door.

“He goes racing around the apartment looking for Beef, who happened to be in the backroom doing a telephonic job interview,” Schultheis remembered with a laugh. “And then Bruiser ran in, interrupted the interview, tagged Beef and ran off again.”

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Credit: Kyle Kaplan

More than just the hijinks, the real-life game, and upcoming movie, focus on the bond between childhood friends who never grew apart.

“What this game represents to these adults, which is so much more than a game of tag, it’s something that’s glued their friendship together for 30 years,” Helms says. “Even making the movie, you can’t help thinking about all the connections you have in your life and how strong are they, what keeps them together, whether it’s friends or family, it takes a lot of effort.”

He adds, “This game becomes an excuse to make the effort to be around each other, when life is getting crazy and getting in the way, you still find a way to prioritize your connections with the people you love.”

Also starring Jake Johnson, Annabelle Wallis, Rashida Jones and Isla Fisher, Tag is slated to hit theaters June 15.