Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Big Game

BIG GAME (Jalmari Helander, 2014)

Although exceptions exist, there should probably be a rule that the more self-consciously outrageous a film description sounds, the more likely that the synopsis is all it has going for it. That’s certainly true of BIG GAME, in which a Finnish boy on a solo rite of passage hunt protects Samuel L. Jackson as the President of the United States from would-be assassins. Writer-director Jalmari Helander isn’t striving to make an ironically bad film that winks nonstop at an audience presumably in on the joke. Instead this action comedy appears inspired by fantastical 1980s movies in which kids become involved with something much larger than themselves and grow through their adventures.

On the verge of his thirteenth birthday Oskari (Onni Tommila) is sent alone into a Finnish forest for one day and one night to track and kill his prey with a primitive bow and arrow. His father passed this initiation into manhood, and the same is expected of him, although he isn’t strong enough to pull the string back fully on his weapon. Deep in the wilderness he comes across an escape pod containing unpopular U.S. President William Alan Moore (Jackson). Disgruntled Secret Service agent Morris (Ray Stevenson) disabled Air Force One’s security system to permit his associates to blow the plane and its escorts out of the sky. Killing the President is on their agenda, but Hazar (Mehmet Kurtulus) wants to make a big show of capturing the leader of the free world before having him stuffed and mounted like a trophy.

After determining that the President is not an alien, Oskari brings William along on his expedition. They’re too far from anywhere for the President to get to safety on his own, and Oskari isn’t going to bail on his mission. Unbeknownst to them Morris, Hazar, and his men are in the forest looking for them with the intent of finishing what they’ve started.

As silly as the impression BIG GAME’s recap gives, the film resists following through with the campy concept. Jackson’s performance is restrained, which results in a tender moment with Oskari as he explains the difference between looking and being tough, but is a film this patently absurd when he should be holding back? And what are Victor Garber, Felicity Huffman, and Jim Broadbent doing in this? It’s as though they signed up to appear in a goof, but Helander forgot to make it funny out of concern for not being taken seriously as a filmmaker.

BIG GAME’s earnestness also confuses because of how cheap it looks. The cut-rate special effects are more in keeping with direct-to-video blockbuster knock-offs, which reinforces the absence of expected humor. The good and bad guys spend a lot of time walking and talking in the woods, so action scenes are few and unremarkable. Helander’s send-up of big-budget conspiracy thrillers and boys’ quests fails to register as anything but a wacky idea. It’s too mundane to entertain as a willfully bad effort with some name talent.

Grade: D+

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