6 September 2014 | Coolestmovies
Epically mounted, poorly written; a just-OK B-movie, and a blatant bid for Hollywood
On route to a pre-G8 summit meeting, the U.S. president's plane is brought down by a seeming act of terrorism into the dense, mountainous Finnish Lapland, played here by the German Alps much like Norway substituted for Finland in writer-director Jalmari Helander's debut feature RARE EXPORTS. Ejected to safety by his right-hand secret service agent (Ray Stevenson) before the crash, the president (Samuel L. Jackson) finds his only hope of escaping the mountains and forest is a 13-year old boy (Onni Tommila, the star of RARE EXPORTS) undergoing his first solo hunt as a rite-of-passage into manhood. The boy, we're shown, doesn't share his father's legendary skill for hunting—his talent with a bow and arrow tending to land shots well short of their targets—but when it becomes apparent that the president is being stalked, MOST DANGEROUS GAME style, by a team of slick big game hunters led by a Saudi psychopath (Mehmet Kurtulus) who has paid an exorbitant sum of money for the privilege of stuffing and mounting his prize, the duo must both learn that being tough is equally as crucial as looking tough.
Meanwhile, back at Pentagon HQ bunker, the vice president (Victor Garber), his aide (Felicity Huffman), a top general (Ted Levine) and an intelligence expert (Jim Broadbent) pound their fists, actually shout lines like "Dear GOD!", order in Chinese take-out, analyze a wall of gigantic satellite monitors and generally deliver Helander's shallow, wholly-derivative and often groan-inducing dialogue with as much professional aplomb as they can muster. With actors like these, all of whom Helander was no doubt able to attract on the charming eccentricity of RARE EXPORTS, audiences bring a lot of subconscious baggage to the table when watching them on deliver mostly and unnecessarily expository dialogue, having seen them play countless similar roles over the years, in effect filling in the blanks left by the writer. Without them, or with lesser actors or, say, Finns playing Americans, the film wouldn't have gotten too deep into the festival circuit (where it's currently making the rounds as I write this), or even a DVD/stream release outside of Europe or the Nordic countries, as the primary selling features would be limited to its spectacular visuals, an epic score, and the unique flavour of the indigenous cast. There are plenty of Nordic movies like that already, and they're largely unknown in North America.
Speaking of blanks, there are some big ones in Big Game, including a clearer understanding of the conspiracy that's actually taking place. With straight-up terrorism ruled out very early in the show, and the Chinese-armed Mid-Eastern hunters revealed to be in league with an "inside man", it comes as no real surprise that the two halves of the story—the action in the forest and the hand-wringing at the pentagon—will reveal additional villainy afoot (predictably, that's exactly what happens). But when Kurtulus, at long last moving in for the kill on Jackson aboard a sunken Air Force One after much shooting of guns, detonating of explosives, pursuits by helicopters and, at one point, a perilous and logic-defying ride in an airborne-then-waterborne refrigerator (don't ask), suddenly announces that he's on actually on the president's side (!), but answers Jackson's query of how with an exhausted "It's a long story. Maybe later." before resuming his attempt to kill him, it only confirms that Helander hasn't really thought the story through beyond characters and dialogue he purloined from other, superior works. That this exchange is quickly followed by Jackson's trailer-ready, baddie-dispatching quip for the ages proves that Helander is more about hitting the right beats and deploying the expected clichés than shaping character or filling in story, or addressing potentially interesting political subtexts inherent in the situation he created.
Make no mistake. This is clearly an amped-up calling card to Hollywood in the wake of the goodwill engendered by his enjoyably quirky RARE EXPORTS. I doubt it will get much theatrical play outside major markets. It will probably do alright on DVD and streaming (the "home formats", as the pros will say), and its high gloss production value should surprise the unsuspecting renter and be enough to attach Helander and DP Mika Orasmaa to a bigger American or international production for their next show(s), which is clearly something they're aiming for based on the evidence assembled here.
BIG GAME is very well crafted on what was undoubtedly a small budget compared to its American antecedents, with Helander and Orasmaa backgrounding nearly every frame with majestic mountain scenery, big skies, craggy surfaces and lush forestation, and Juri and Miska Seppa's sweeping orchestral score matching those visuals on every level, almost to a fault. The film's plentiful digital effects, including the crash of Air Force One and a climactic confrontation in the sky between ejector seat-bound Jackson and Tommilla and a helicopter riding villain, are all seamlessly integrated even as they routinely defy physics or common sense. But these are beautiful visuals tethered to an undernourished B-movie screenplay. I suppose some will claim that's part of it's charm — and it's certainly never boring as a result — but that's just excusing the fact that Helander should've had someone with a better ear for English dialogue and a better understanding of how the more successful of the American action pictures and 1980's Spielberg productions he idolizes here actually work, perhaps by doing more technical research than just appropriating their surface gloss for inspiration.