FILM REVIEW: Big Game


GENRE: Adventure / Action / Comedy

DIRECTOR: Jalmari Helander

CAST: Onni Tommila, Samuel L. Jackson, Ray Stevenson, Mehmet Kurtulus, Jim Broadbent, Victor Garber, Felicity Huffman, Ted Levine and Jorma Tommila

DISTRIBUTOR: Entertainment One

CERTIFICATION: 12A

RELEASE DATE: 8th May 2015

DURATION: 90 minutes

Big Game sets itself up as an old-skool adventure comedy in this silly-but-dumb-fun homage to action adventure comedies of the ‘80s and ‘90s.

Oskari (Onni Tommila), a boy living in a small Finnish village, is to embark on a test of manhood. On his 13th birthday, he must now prove his worth and live up to the feats of his father (played by Onni’s real-life dad, Jorma Tommila) – a hunting legend who caught a massive bear in his youth. However, Oskari is shaky and insecure. Nonetheless, he strides forward with his bow and arrow on his solo quest. But what crosses his path is deadlier than any wilderness beast: Air Force One has crashed in the forest, missile-hauling extremists are in pursuit of the U.S. President Moore (Samuel L. Jackson) and it’s up to Oskari to protect him.

Finnish director Jelmari Helander’s last feature was a comedy horror called Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale, which had an arguably more outlandish premise – a homicidal Santa Claus awakened from the grave by an archaeological dig and a horde of elves coming to rescue him from his captors. (I haven’t seen it myself, but it sounds like a good add-on to the Christmas movie list.) Big Game presents itself in a similar vain. But this time, with a star-studded cast.

From the outset, the opening sequence offer the picturesque highland landscape with sky-high shots of the snowy mountain peaks partnered an equally soaring score. (Side note: Big Game is set in Finland, but it was shot predominately in Germany – I guess because financial or logistical reasons. So, the scenic imagery seen during the film is of the Bavarian Alps.)

As expected, the plot points are very obvious. Even during the twists and turns, I could easily separate the bad guys from the good guys. Like me, if you have watched your fair share of adventure flicks through the years, you too should have no problem figuring out who’s who and what’s what.

In saying that, a pleasant surprise is Jackson’s casting. I’m so used to watching him play the bad-ass who kicks ass that I didn’t expect to see him play against type this time. This may disappoint viewers, especially judging by the promotional posters. President Moore is a wimpy, weak, witless-with-weapons, human punching bag. Regardless, Jackson’s inherent smoothness shines through. On the other hand, the character of Oskari proves to be a daring trailblazer, despite his inability with a bow and arrow. As a young actor, Onni holds his own, even during the corny one-liners.

It’s the natural chemistry between Onni as the hero and Jackson as the damsel in distress (for want of a better term) that gives Big Game heart and holds the film together.

Big Game serves up a trim 90-minute running time (including credits).  This lends to the one-dimensional character short-hands, particularly the baddies. Morris (Ray Stevenson) is the brawny Secret Service Agent with a vindictive grudge against the president he’s paid to protect. Surprise, surprise. While his co-conspirator, Hazar (Mehmet Kurtulus), is an ever-so cliché psychopath who kills for pleasure, it is any wonder he doesn’t have twirly moustache to round off the proceedings.

Big Game repeatedly cuts back to a control room in Washington, where the vice president (Victor Garber), C.I.A. Director (Felicity Huffman) and Director of Joint Chiefs (Ted Levine) watch the events unfold. If it wasn’t for the cunning insight of terrorist spy expert (Jim Broadbent), they would never know what action to take. Broadbent is delightful to watch as he casually takes charge in the H.Q. and tells the team operatives what to do.

Having not seen them on film in a while, I was disappointed to see Garber and Huffman in reduced roles. They play more like billed bit parts, having only a handful of lines each. I feel this was a waste of good talent. In particular, Huffman’s character serves no function or influence on the plot whatsoever.

Making up for the lack of character development are the laughs to be had, particularly from the dynamic between Oskari and President Moore, over-the-top situations, and the super slow motion sequences. These laughs foe me didn’t really begin until about halfway through the film.

Alas, Big Game isn’t to be taken seriously, but instead taken in a happy-go-lucky spirit. It’s clear just how much the movie wants to tip its hat to old-school blockbusters while poking fun at them too. And it does an okay job. Though I feel it works really well as a fun adventure comedy for kids before they graduate to the big-time action blockbusters that we adults all know and love.

6/10

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