Movie review: ‘TAG: The Assassination Game’

Back in my college days there was a game popular with some on campus called “Killer,” or it was sometimes known as “Assassin.” The “rules” had been published after a fashion and would be formally in 1981, and in the game people tried to “eliminate” each other with, say, a toy gun. At my alma mater of the University of Florida, organizational meetings were once held in a room numbered L007 in homage to “James Bond” films. A couple of Hollywood efforts touched on this brief phenomena (think about carrying a fake gun around campus these days and pretending to shoot someone!) including “TAG: The Assassination Game” with Robert Carradine. It isn’t a particularly well-made film, but it is watchable and has an interesting cast (“John Connors’” future mother Linda Hamilton is the co-star).  It’s fun and games that turns serious and I know you either didn’t see or don’t remember it. Enjoy!

‘TAG: The Assassination Game’
(1982; 90 minutes; rated PG; directed by Nick Castle and starring Robert Carradine, Linda Hamilton and Kristine DeBell)

TAKING A GAME A BIT TOO FAR

(NOTE: I expanded this review with a little more opinion and the updating of links on Nov. 25, 2016.)

I always relish finding and then re-watching a film that I enjoyed years ago but haven’t seen in quite a while. When I found “TAG: The Assassination Game” on YouTube.com it was a great rediscovery. The film has the cheesy production look of 1970s television, but it has an acceptable plot with a cast worth watching – including “The Terminator’s” Linda Hamilton.

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TAG: The Assassination Game” starts out as a bit of a take-off of James Bond and noir films with its characters sneaking around and dark scenes with window-blind shadows or moving shadows from ceiling fan blades. It’s a story about a game called “Killer” (its rules were first published in 1981) where you “kill” competitor in a competition that plays down to a final two players (kind of like the NCAA basketball bracket tournament). A second movie about this short-lived fad was “Gotcha!” from 1985 with Anthony Edwards and Linda Fiorentino, but it was a much more of a real film with a better plot involving real spies and not just students running around campus (click here for my review).

In “TAG: The Assassination Game,” the game’s reigning champion and best competitor is “Loren Gersh,” who is played by movie newcomer Bruce Abbott. He is “killed” out of the game by another player who gets off a freakishly lucky shot. The ensuing heckling is so enraging that Abbott goes back to his dorm room, gets a real gun and dispatches the other player. From then on, Abbott’s twisted mind is gone and he begins dispatching opponents for real.

“Gersh’s” main competition is from Hamilton, who plays “Susan Swayze” and she’s the amorous interest of the film’s main character, “Alex Marsh” played by Robert Carradine. He’s on the school newspaper looking to do another story on the game because he is enamored with Hamilton. The forces converge when Abbott and Hamilton are the final two players in the game and Carradine uncovers the truth behind the emerging reports of missing students (they’re all TAG players who were actually killed). Carradine rushes in and saves the day and gets the girl.

Here’s a look at some of the principal cast:

  • I did this review because I was reminded of it doing my look back at the western called “The Long Riders” (click here for my review), in which Carradine was a co-star. He does just an acceptable job here as the Mickey Spillane wannabe writer as the lead character. Carradine, who was in his 23rd role in movies and TV here, has also been in “The Big Red One” (click here for my review) as well as best remembered for his work as “Lewis Skolnick” in the “Revenge of the Nerds” franchise.
  • Hamilton, who became famous for her role as “Sarah Connor” in “The Terminator” and its sequel seven years later, is smooth here in her first co-starring role (she had a bit part in one previous film and a few TV shots) and does good work, but doesn’t make the character stand out. Hamilton has also been in “Dante’s Peak” and a number of TV appearances.
  • One actor who does make her character stand out is former adult star Kristine DeBell, who plays Hamilton’s friend “Nancy McCauley.” DeBell is cute, energetic and and an eager friend here and has a nice routine of putting on a bathing suit that distracts her would-be killers. DeBell was better in “Meatballs” with Bill Murray, but she’s better here than she was in kung-fu minor classic “Battle Creek Brawl” (also called “The Big Brawl”) with Jackie Chan — click here for my review of that one.
  • Abbott is solid in his first movie role here and does a better than anticipated job from the first time you see him in a scene. Abbott was also in a number of horror films, including the very graphic “Re-Animator.” He has also been in “Casual Sex?” with Lea Thompson and a TV movie called “Baja Oklahoma” from the Dan Jenkins novel of the same name.
  • You won’t need to see him, but voice and voice imitations give away Michael Winslow instantly. He plays “Gowdy,” a guy who surrounds himself with friends so he won’t be eliminated from the game. The voices are neat and you would have easily remembered them two years later when he was in “Police Academy” and its six sequels. Winslow was also in “Spaceballs” and even did a voice for the video game “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.”

A tip about finding “TAG: The Assassination Game.” It can most easily be found on YouTube.com (yes, I know they don’t usually stream full movies, but this one was alive there through Nov. 16, 2014). It’s interesting to note that one poster for “TAG: The Assassination Game” has a drawing of a suction-cup shot from a toy gun stuck to a girl’s backside. The other film about this fad, “Gotcha!,” has its main character shooting a paintball onto a girl’s backside to end it. I wonder if they took inspiration from “TAG: The Assassination Game’s” poster?

Oh, and finally, how times have changed. In “TAG: The Assassination Game,” people run around campus ambushing others with toy guns and the only policeman on campus looks like an elderly rent-a-cop who doesn’t even keep a loaded gun in his holster. Unfortunately in today’s climate of fear after so many campus shootings, if a person ran around threatening people with a toy gun the police would dispatch a 12-man SWAT team, deploy an armored vehicle and coordinate the whole thing from a helicopter.

I couldn’t find a box office ranking for “TAG: The Assassination Game” with my favorite resource, Box Office Mojo. It doesn’t list “TAG: The Assassination Game” in its 1982 ranking of films and Wiki’s entry for the film doesn’t include any box office or budget totals. In any case, it would have been far down the list in a year that had the Nos. 1-2-3 films as “E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial” ($359.1 million), “Tootsie” ($177.2 million) and “An Officer and a Gentleman” ($129.7 million). Here are the films from 1982 that I have already reviewed:

Assorted cast notes (via IMDb.com):

© Chuck Curry and A Gator in Naples, 2014, 2015, 2016.
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