Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 27 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Sequences of Intense Action and Violence, and some Language
Directed by: Jalmari Helander
Written by: Jalmari Helander & Petri Jokiranta
Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Onni Tommila, Felicity Huffman, Victor Garber, Ted Levine, Jim Broadbent & Ray Stevenson
In 2010, a little Finnish movie by the name of RARE EXPORTS got a small theatrical release. That film was a decidedly darker take on the legend of Santa Claus and wound up being one of my favorite movies of that year. I eagerly awaited to see what director/writer Jalmari Helander would do next. Over four years later, we’ve now been given his sophomore feature: BIG GAME. People planning to watch this movie should know in advance that this isn’t a massive action-packed extravaganza. Instead, it’s a family friendly adventure that would fit right in during the 80’s with GREMLINS, GOONIES, and MONSTER SQUAD audiences. BIG GAME is a fun homage to cheesy adventures of yesteryear that wholeheartedly embraces every cliché that comes with that territory.
Oskari’s thirteenth birthday has arrived and he is going on a ceremonial trip through a thick forest countryside to become a man. Oskari’s solo hunting venture through Finland’s woods takes a surprising turn when Air Force One (conveniently flying over Finland) is shot down. Miraculously, the President of the United States has survived and is rescued by Oskari. The destruction of Air Force One was only the first step in an assassination plot conceived by a traitorous secret service agent and a demented big game hunter. Oskari and the cowardly President must work together if they plan on getting out of the woods alive.
BIG GAME isn’t a full-blown action flick and is purposely ridiculous. I think that the marketing has made this film look like something it isn’t and that’s upsetting some folks who wouldn’t necessarily be fans of stuff like RARE EXPORTS. The movie may be clichéd to a fault, but that was entirely intentional and helps boost the fun/nostalgia factor being dished out. The script is a basic, by-the-numbers story, but the execution is where everything shines in BIG GAME. The film looks gorgeous. RARE EXPORTS had a beautiful visual style too and BIG GAME benefits from using the same cinematographer. As far as the effects go, they all look up to snuff and far better than recent CGI messes that have been brought to the screen (I’m thinking of a few scenes in the latest TERMINATOR). If there are any major complaints that I have with this film, they lie in the pacing and a really short running time. The story certainly doesn’t overstay its welcome, but rather, understays it. I wanted the film to last longer, especially given that one certain glaring plot thread isn’t tied up in a satisfying way.
BIG GAME sports a cast with some famous faces. Samuel L. Jackson plays the President of the United States, but is far from his conventional bad-ass hero archetype. Instead, this President is a wuss from the get-go (as evidenced by a newspaper headline that reads “Lame Duck President”). Though I imagine that a few Jackson fans will be pissed that he’s not kicking ass and taking names for most of this film, I thought it was a lot of fun to see him in an unconventional role. Ray Stevenson is clearly having a blast as the corrupt secret service agent and seems like he’s naturally built for the part of a villain. He was awesome as a big bad gangster in DEXTER Season 7 and pretty much seems to be channeling that same fun, charismatic baddie in this film. Onni Tommila isn’t a well-known face to Americans, but he was the awesome leading kid in RARE EXPORTS and shows that he has a knack for this type of role yet again in BIG GAME. Ted Levine and Jim Broadbent pop up as two of the President’s men in the White House. It was amusing to see White House staff members’ react to the mayhem playing out in the Finland countryside, but these scenes feel unneeded and really slow down the action when it does get going.
Much like RARE EXPORTS, BIG GAME isn’t a movie for everybody. It’s purposely ridiculous, over-the-top, and very campy. I don’t think it’s on the same level of RARE EXPORTS, but this sophomore effort remains a wholly enjoyable (surprisingly) family friendly adventure that serves it’s purpose in being a fun B-flick with really excellent cinematography and locations. BIG GAME should entertain its intended audience and is well worth checking out as long as you keep your expectations at a reasonable level.