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Christopher Webster [Celluloid 06.23.15] action thriller adventure

Finnish director Jalmari Helander made his mark with the ambitious evil Santa film, Rare Exports (review). We were fans of the nasty little holiday film and enjoyed Helander's uniquely European riff on the kinds of 80's era Amblin movies where kids saved the day. Big Game is Helander's follow-up, an equally ambitious attempt to create the kind of movies Hollywood makes with a smaller budget and a kid at the centre, but man, does this movie not work.

I've read some reviewers who seem baffled that Big Game's high concept got greenlit at all based on how outrageous it seems on the surface. On the contrary, its simplicity is wonderful and I can see how the screenplay made everyone excited when they read it. It's exactly the kind of commercial, four quadrant project that gets people jazzed up.

In short, Air Force One is shot down over the mountains and the president of the United States (here played by Samuel L. Jackson) is hunted by terrorists. He soon learns his survival depends a 13 year-old boy who is out on a solitary, ritualistic coming-of-age hunting trip and together they survive the night.


With Helander's visual chops, this should have been a super fun, action-packed romp. Instead Big Game plays like a facsimile of Hollywood action movies, the plot moving from one uninspired set piece to the next- sometimes impressive in execution, but all together stale. The baddies are super broad, their motives oblique. Jackson's POTUS is one dimensional at best. All the beats of a story are here, but play out in a way that feels pantomimed and without an authentic emotional core. Oskari's (played by child actor Onni Tommila) arc comes closest, but the actor can't carry the whole film on his shoulders.

Really, Big Game reminds me of all those 70's and 80's European exploitation movies that were half-baked takes on legitimate box office hits. And on that level, I can actually enjoy Big Game. Viewed on the level of a thin exploitation film, I can agree that it's "fun" at times, and I'm not surprised that Luc Besson's Europa Corp. picked the film up for distribution. This is exactly the kind of film they produce: easily marketed action films with a big name at the centre. Unfortunately Big Game doesn't reach the heights of many of those movies.

Just thinking back to the whole sub-plot involving Jim Broadbent as a sandwich munching Langley security expert, I can't help but shake my head. What a waste.

Some might argue that Big Game is designed to be a big, dumb, fun B-movie. I don't buy that. Helander is interested in genre, yes, but you can tell he's thoughtful and wants to create something bold. He wants his films to evoke that Amblin spirit and make your heart swell. Unfortunately, Big Game doesn't come close to reaching the heights those films did. It has some moments of delight, but on the whole it's nothing more than a disappointing and disposable action movie.

Big Game comes out June 26, 2015.

Recommended Release: Rare Exports

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