VOD Review: Big Game.
Finnish director Jalmari Helander recaptures the fun and bombast of late 1980’s action flicks…with a few bumps and bruises along the way.
It’s the Fourth of July, so time to celebrate some American exceptionalism by screening a film about the rescue of a kidnapped US President by a Finnish teen. No, this is not the pitch for an official “Bad Dudes” movie, though I’m totally open to that happening if anyone wants to hit me up for a screenplay treatment.
Starring Samuel L. Jackson as the President and Onni Tommila as the boy Oscari, this film is a fun and campy throwback to the big action adventures of the 1980’s and 90’s. This movie could have been the brainchild of Roland Emmerich. It nails the fun and cheesy aspects, has some decent action set pieces, and pushed the boundary of credulity enough to be right at home with films like Die Hard, Air Force One, and True Lies.
Big Game (2014)
As a right of passage for a local village of Finnish hunters, children who turn 13 are given supplies and an old bow and arrow and sent into the woods to hunt for 24 hours. What game they bring back marks their social status in the group. Oscari is the son of the best hunter, but is not really very good with a bow himself. He sets out with trepidation, and his hunt only goes from bad to worse. On the same night, an internal coup by a disaffected Secret Service agent (Ray Stevenson) maroons the American President deep in the forest to be picked up by terrorists. Oscari finds him first, and the two must fight for their life against baddies…FOR FREEDOM!
Jalmari Helander knows his stuff when it comes to cheesy B-Movie glory. His other film, Rare Exports, is a cult classic in the schlocky horror genre akin to John Carpenter’s The Thing or Don Coscarelli‘s Phantasm. He has a knack for overblown dialogue, absurd situations, big explosive sequences, and a firm grasp on character building. This movie knows what genre it is following in the footstep’s of and pulls off the trick of being a bombastic homage without being ironic or cute.
This film takes the stock characters of an 80’s action flick and tweaks them smartly. Samuel L. Jackson plays a president who is physically inept but full of cynical swagger. He knows he’s in deep, but he’s never backed down from a fight before, so we see him get in over his head with bravura. Onni Tommila is solid as young Oscari, another character trying to walk in boots way too big for him. He spits some pretty great one-liners like a mini Schwarzenegger before botching his rescue attempts, but wins the day because he never quits.
The film definitely benefits from the presence of Ray Stevenson, who plays the villain selling out his president for ideological reasons. He’s menacing and ruthless, cowing the terrorists around him and showing real hatred for Jackson’s character. He falls into the classic baddie trap of toying with his food too often, but he’s a fittingly striking villain.
The rest of the bad guys fall below the “smartly generic” line. The terrorist leader fancies himself a big game hunter, but never feels threatening. The rest of his crew is stock Middle Eastern thugs. There are a few nice reveals about who is ultimately pulling the strings, but you never get a feel that these terrorists are Hans Gruber level antagonists.
No pulpy action flick could survive on lousy set pieces, and Big Game delivers some nice sequences. The downing of Air Force One is smart and features some really nice visuals as Stevenson jumps from the doomed plane and watches it explode on the way down. The final confrontation, aboard the remains of the plane, is pretty good and has the requisite big explosion to send audiences off happy.
A few of the sequences fall flat, but not because they’re boring: they’re just a touch silly. As the plane crashes, we get the classic canard of an action hero running in a straight line from a crashing vehicle and jumping at the last second. It’s too cute. A good chunk of the middle of the film involves the second most magical fridge in movie history behind Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, so you know how crazy I’m talking about. Apparently beat up old ice boxes are bullet-proof, air-tight, and feature shock-absorbing material. That’s a well made fridge!
Big Dumb Fun.
Gripes aside, you can’t really fault Big Game for being a touch on the campy side. 90% of what Indiana Jones or John McClane did was not survivable, but you liked the characters and shut the alarm bells in your logic center down long enough to enjoy the ride. Big Game is much the same. It lets you know right away what tone it is going for with some self-referential material that is groan worthy, but it nails the feel of a classic big dumb action film. The leads and the villain are solid, and you get some fine action sequences where a blend of CG and practical effects look good. For a 10 million dollar budget, Jalmari Helander pulls off a Fourth of July miracle.