MOVIE REVIEW: Big Game
"BIG GAME"-- ZERO STARS
About a year ago, Adam Sandler, an actor long derided and forgotten on this website, ruffled some industry feathers when he admitted during an interview on "Jimmy Kimmel Live" that he treats his films as, essentially, paid vacations. He said out loud what many of us have always thought about overpaid celebrities who constantly shill for themselves. Are we really that surprised that a guy like Sandler does it for the money and lavish digs? We shouldn't be. Just look at his films. Few would call them "achievements" or "art." We shouldn't cling to any naivety whatsoever that he does it for the craft or the art. An astute moviegoer with even a minor discerning eye can spot the good ones that are invested in what they are doing, and, equally so, they can spot the bad apples cashing a paycheck. Both types need to be called out more often for their deserved dose of either kudos or shame.
Well, someone from a cheap spy movie (pun definitely intended to the minor crapshoot that was just "Spy") better check a few Swedish bank accounts for some sizable stacks of Euros stolen from the country of Finland. Bankrolled overseas for just under $10 million, the new film "Big Game," playing concurrently in limited theatrical release and Video On Demand, stars a sizable cast of Hollywood players stealing easy money and cashing quick paychecks. At the top of the list is the headlining A-lister Samuel L. Jackson, followed by Oscar winner Jim Broadbent, Oscar nominee and Golden Globe winner Felicity Huffman, multiple Emmy nominee Victor Garber, former "Punisher: War Zone" star Ray Stevenson, and former "The Silence of the Lambs" killer Ted Levine.
It doesn't matter how much they got paid, how delicious the karjalan piirakka pies and pasties were for breakfast each morning, or how cute it was to be in Europe for a few months, arrest them all for stealing and revoke their artistic licenses until further notice. "Big Game" is a dumpster fire. It might be so incredibly terrible that it's too bad to ever become a "so-bad-it's-good" guilty pleasure and cult favorite. This might be beyond the boys at RiffTrax to mock, and that's saying something.
Jackson stars as William "Bill" Moore, the fictional African-American President of the United States with the whitest name. He is aboard Air Force One on its descent flying into Helsinki for a pre-G8 summit. Unbeknownst to him, his lead Secret Service agent, Morris (Stevenson) has disabled the defense countermeasures on the jet, making it susceptible to surface-to-air missile attacks. That's just what Morris and his not-so-secret boss, the Euro-trash terrorist Hazar (German actor Mehmet Kurtulus, who's clearly trying to overact as if to prove he belongs among his American visitors), have in mind. Once the techs on Air Force One are alerted to this, Morris purposely evacuates Bill in his escape pod to isolate him on the ground for capture and ransom while Hazar and his men shoot down Air Force One and its accompanying F-18 escorts.
Moore's pod lands in the mountainous Finnish wilderness and is discovered by Oskari (Onni Tommila), a young teen who was sent out into the woods on his 13th birthday to hunt, kill, and bring back a trophy animal as an ancestral rite of passage by his family clan. The puny kid is alone with only an ATV and a bow-and-arrow, something he can't even shoot with any force. With Morris, Hazar, and their nameless machine gun-toting thugs on his tail, Oskari is Bill's only helpful chance at survival. That is precisely where the believability of the plot ends.
"Big Game" tailspins from there with multiple fits and starts, false showdowns, wasteful monologues, and towards a wacky climax that ends with the bluntest bang and fakest, most forced bravura this side of a Michael Bay movie, and that's saying something. The "Benny Hill" hour begins with the big-wigs back in the war room in Washington that can only wait for the SEALs or Marines to arrive at the wreckage site. That means they get to waste our time with senseless exposition divided among a Vice President of bluster (Garber), a worried analyst with an unconvincing worried face (Huffman), a Chief of Staff general (Levine) filled with excuses in a prop uniform that doesn't fit, and a old CIA know-it-all (Broadbent) that makes everyone in suits sound and feel stupid despite looking like a cross between a lazy librarian and your out-of-touch grandfather.
Zero smarts come from that side of the movie and barely anymore come from the action filmed in the Bavarian woods of Germany standing in for the actual Finland. First off, how pathetic is that? You bankroll a film in Finland and have a trendy Finnish writer-director but can't haul a camera out to your own rustic backyard to shoot your stuff? You have to borrow from Germany? Jeez. Now, that's saying something.
We all expect Samuel L. Jackson to flip the "Snakes on a Plane" switch in an action film like this and turn into a "Cliffhanger"-meets-"Air Force One" badass, but he doesn't. Bill Moore is a pencil pusher who can't tie his own shoes and has zero outdoor skills. How does Samuel L., Nick Fury himself, sit at the table read for "Big Game" and go "You know what this movie needs? Me totally underplaying against type. Make the Prez a weakling, opposite to the 'most powerful man in the world' label, and watch people be impressed." Hell no, man! What are you doing?
"Big Game" has a cool premise that could have been awesome. Drop a suit like The President of the United States in the European alpine and watch him rise to the occasion to overcome his chasers with elaborate and thrilling survival obstacles and encounters. That's gold! We never get that. We get the equivalent of knockoff IKEA furniture which was already cheap to begin with. Anything resembling a plot twist has the strength of a wet pasta noodle. There is zero peril or suspense and just more layers of inept cheese. All the cliches are here, from the monologuing villains to the inability of any evil character to hit any target with any single bullet from a hailstorm of automatic fire of extremely low difficulty.
With Bill Moore a wimp, that leaves the movie's heroics to the dumb Finnish teenager who offers absolutely nothing of skill or consequence that could ever be seriously taken as a threat worthy of pulling this whole rescue off. Sure, the plot is already a stretch, but you need to at least have some kind of heft or plausibility. Does that stop writer-director Jalmari Helander and make him reconsider or clean thing up? Nope.
Tommila's Oskari is the actual star of the movie. He gets all the cool stuff. They bathe his character in cheap, roaring, repetitive patriotic music that would make Hans Zimmer's ears bleed, and that's saying something. They move him with so much slow-motion hero cinematography that it would make John Woo throw up, and that's saying something (OK, I've gone too far, last one). How much cheesy slo-mo? Well, "Big Game" is just a tick under 90 minutes. If they moved all of the scenes at full speed, I would estimate that the film would be over in 24 minutes. That's like an episode of "Family Feud" and that has more unpredictability and excitement, all at senior citizen speed. It's all so incredibly hokey and overcooked and wasted on a heroic wannabe who can't even muster a Kevin McAllister "Home Alone" effort of resourcefulness or ingenuity.
Once again, don't feel sorry for any of these stars. They got paid handsomely for this and its embarrassing. They signed up for this and likely didn't have to. In case you have forgotten this famous fact, no star's films in the world have made more money than those of Samuel L. Jackson. Combining his work in any acting or filmmaking capacity, his films have earned just over $4.5 billion dollars domestically and over $11.4 billion dollars globally. We get that pimps never stop pimping, but Samuel L. doesn't need this paycheck. He doesn't need Finnish street cred. He's past that. You're the coolest cat on the planet. Stop making straight-to-video junk like this. You're not Adam Sandler! Stop making crap for the money.
LESSON #1: LEARN BASIC OUTDOOR SKILLS-- Bill Moore doesn't have to go all Anthony Hopkins in "The Edge" and kill bears and stuff, but, dang, you would think any educated leader of any level of success would have picked up a few basic survival skills like starting a fire, finding compass directions, or more along the way of regular or even privileged life. Gosh, there are blind people who can hold up in the woods better than this man. Let "Big Game" be an easy reminder to put basic outdoor skills on your list with swimming instructions, driving lessons, written penmanship, and couples massage techniques for life's must-haves. Like the rest of that list, they are too simple and too easy not to have in your arsenal.
LESSON #2: DON'T TEXT YOUR NEFARIOUS PLAN OR WORKS IN PLAIN SIGHT IN FRONT OF OTHER PEOPLE-- If you're the ultra-intelligent "mole" or "inside man," what are you doing pulling out the cell phone and texting details and instructions right in front of all the world's possible surveillance and watching eyes? What happened to all the hard work to get to this point? You've come too far to be that stupid and you're asking to get caught.
LESSON #3: WHEN A VILLAIN TAKES THE TIME TO LAY OUT AND REVEAL HIS OR HER ENTIRE PLAN BECAUSE THEY DELIVER THE CLASSIC "SINCE YOU'RE GOING TO DIE ANYWAY" LINE, THEY ARE GIVING THE HERO EXTRA TIME AND KEY INSIGHT TO GET OUT OF WHATEVER POORLY PLANNED DEATHTRAP YOU HAVE MASTERMINDED-- Enough said right there. Just kill your man already. You probably don't need the ransom money, which then creates more time and chances to be caught. Assassinating a President is flashy enough. You get your name in the history books for the cool way you pulled it off. This is 90 minutes of repetitive and groan-filed facepalming right up to the end where the villains gets their deserved deaths.
LESSON #4: ALWAYS BE VIGILANT TO THE "NO WITNESSES, NO LOOSE ENDS" PROVISIONS OF PULLING OFF A CRIME-- This lesson especially is necessary if you are trying to kidnap and ransom the leader of the free world. Simply put for this specific movie: Kill the damn kid! You're supposed to be terrorists and turncoats. You're going after the President of the United States with a SEAL team arriving within the hour. We already watched you kill former colleagues and other witnesses earlier in the movie with gaudy ease. How does a mealy-mouthed mountain man kid get several free passes? No witnesses! No loose ends! You're killers. Kill people. Put a double-tap in the kid and collect your prize. End the movie sooner.