18 June 2004 | ThingyBlahBlah3
a good cast wastes its time - spoilers
It's possible that this movie suffers by comparison to "Hard Target," which was undoubtedly better, thanks mostly to John Woo's direction and the stylish villainy of Lance Hendriksen and Arnold Vosloo. But "Surviving the Game" is out-and-out garbage. The premise was already stale, the writing is god-awful, and the characters aren't even on the level of a comic book. The depiction of homeless life in a big city is, at best, charmingly inaccurate. The climactic showdown is one of the most mind-numbingly stupid scenes I've ever encountered (and I've seen everything that Edward D. Wood Jr and Steven Seagal have done).
The only possible reason to see this is to watch a good cast waste its time. Ice-T, taken out of his usual big-pimping-gangster routine, is surprisingly good; he's believable in the action scenes (although I can't figure out how a malnourished homeless man could have so much energy), and he creates a good deal of sympathy too. Unfortunately, the screenplay gives him the lion's share of clunky dialogue. In particular, his conversation in the cave with John McGinley is so poorly-written that no actor could possibly survive it. Hey, wouldn't that make a nifty DVD extra, to have, say, Ralph Fiennes, Samuel L. Jackson, Gary Oldman, Anthony Hopkins, and Denzel Washington each give their reading of Ice-T's monologue about how his family died in the fire?
Rutger Hauer is entertaining and intelligent as always, and Charles Dutton is his usual rock-solid self. They really do come off as a couple of guys who have known each other for a long time, and the numerous unexplained inside jokes between them are a nice touch. But both actors have been much more impressive in better movies than this.
F. Murray Abraham is horribly miscast, and his character is a mess of contradictions. Abraham has been magnificent before (see "Amadeus" and "Mighty Aphrodite"). But here, he's saddled with the burden of playing the dumbest character in the movie, and, much like James Woods, Abraham is incapable of playing stupid. You can sense Abraham's discomfort with the character throughout, especially in his scenes with William McNamara, who plays his son and seems equally confused about what he's doing here.
John C. McGinley, who foundered for years in crap like this, "On Deadly Ground," and "Highlander II," gives yet another signature performance that's way too good for a movie of this caliber. Fortunately, he finally found a role on "Scrubs" that's worthy of his best efforts. Hopefully his days of playing minor bad guys in lame action movies are over once and for all.
Which brings us to the only real reason to see this movie, the great Gary Busey. Busey by this point had made a second career playing over-the-top villains (see "Lethal Weapon" through "Under Siege"). Here he outdoes himself. As he was probably the highest-paid actor appearing in this movie, he doesn't last very long. But he makes an impression that overshadows everything else. His long monologue (about the dog he had when he was a kid) is up there with any weirdo soliloquy that Christopher Walken's done in the last ten years, and he chews on it like he's enjoying every bite (no pun intended). Shortly after that, he has a well-choreographed fight with Ice-T. But again, could a malnourished homeless guy really hold his own against a CIA-trained total psycho who's much bigger than he is? Well, whatever. Bravo, Mr. Busey, I tip my hat to you.
In short, you can stop watching it after Busey gets his. Aside from watching some good actors struggle through a lousy script, there's nothing more to see here, folks, keep moving.