by Ken B.
Big Game is, without a doubt, one of the stupidest movies I’ve seen in a good while. But this by no means is a bad thing. Seemingly operating over a fertile playground of missed opportunities, writer/director Jalmari Helander could have driven his film down one of several paths which would have resulted in a wittier, subjectively better film, but this is self-aware ‘80s throwback for the beer-and-pretzel crowd, and while its simplistic roots and execution deny the pleasures that a smarter example like The Guest provided (albeit for a different genre), hope is far from lost here, namely in the strengths of lead performances from Samuel L. Jackson and Finnish child actor Onni Tommila, as unlikely an action film duo as there’s been in many a year.
Jackson plays William Alan Moore, incumbent President of the United States. At the start of the brisk 87 minute movie, he’s in Air Force One, headed to the G8 conference in Helsinki. Suddenly, both the plane and the fighter jets surrounding it lose communication with the ground, and a group of terrorists led by Hazar (Mehmet Kurtuluş) shoot it out of the sky. Connected to big oil money which funds his mission, Hazar is otherwise apolitical and also irreligious, with his seemingly agenda-less actions explained by the fact that, in the words of one character, he’s just a psychopath.
With most of the president’s on-board staff killed by sabotaged parachutes, Moore is able to be shoved into an escape pod, and lands in the middle of the Finnish forest. The only person around is Oskari (Tommila), a boy who is undergoing a rite of passage in the woods, sent by his father and a likeminded group of hunters to spend a night by himself, with his masculinity proven if he brings back, ahem, big game. But now this action is diverted, as Oskari helps Moore survive the renegades out to kill the president long enough to be saved by a rescue team dispatched to their location, while rogue government officials assist the terrorists with insider intel.
It’s all exceedingly silly stuff both inside and out, as Helander’s camera frames the Finnish woods with ecstatic vistas, and the preening interiors of Air Force One and the Pentagon with self-aggrandizing dark lights and computer screen glows, with the serious demeanor further emphasizing the intentional chaotic equivalent of a seven-year-old boy breathlessly making up a story (“And the president has to hide in a fridge that gets carried around in a helicopter! And the kid shoots arrows at the bad guys!”). Frankly, it’s hard to imagine anyone taking Big Game as anything else than more comedy than action movie, although it never becomes obnoxious with just how irreverent it is, thankfully. There are few things worse than a movie which does that.
But there are, of course, some issues. From a strategic perspective, the movie, in an attempt to curtail an inherently more violent story into a PG-13 product, has to obscure more bloody elements with incomprehensible quick cuts in many key scenes, and from a creative viewpoint, we are never fully rid of the idea that there could be a slyer and smarter version of this script out there. Pure escapism requires a full envelopment by satisfying all entertainment needs, but here, the film’s continual cuts back to the monitoring of the situation in Washington, D.C. distracts from the totality of the main storyline (although in the subplot, you do get appearances from Jim Broadbent, Victor Garber, and Felicity Huffman). Still, when we do get our scenes in the woods, Samuel L. Jackson commands the screen just as you expect he would, and Onni Tommila turns in a breakthrough showing, rattling off one-liners in a wonderfully deadpan cadence, and despite not performing in his native language, being able to more than hold his own with Jackson. They make it work, alongside Helander’s usually steady hand, ensuring that Big Game is firmly, shamelessly ridiculous, but not without a fair degree of charm and fun.