“Say cheese” is the final line of Jelmari Helander’s Big Game and it’s an appropriate one because this Finnish director knows he’s paying homage to 80s/90s style PG-13 adventure in a tongue and cheek way. The result is a fast paced experience that doesn’t always transcend the cliches of the kind of pics it admires, but has some fun moments along the way.
The concept is of the highest order. The President of the United States Bill Moore (Samuel L. Jackson) is aboard Air Force One flying over Finland (though it was filmed in Germany) when it’s shot down by terrorists. The POTUS gets out through an escape pod, landing in the wilderness. Lucky for him, young Oskari (Onni Tommila) is on a hunting trip in the barren land. He’s about to turn 13 and it’s tradition in his family to show their manhood by bagging a bear or deer… or in this case, corrupt Secret Service agents and Middle Eastern looking baddies. The two team up to outrun their hunters, led by Ray Stevenson’s head agent gone rogue (think James Woods in White House Down). We also see the confusion happening in Washington D.C. as the VP (Victor Garber), an expert CIA man (Jim Broadbent, having a good time), and others including Felicity Huffman and Ted Levine try to save their leader.
Somewhat surprisingly, Helander’s screenplay doesn’t turn President Moore into a secret ass kicker like this material frequently does (think ID4’s Bill Pullman or Air Force One’s Harrison Ford). He’s a bit of a weakling (his approval rating is apparently upside down as well) and young Oskari is also trying to live up to his father’s legendary huntsman status. Moore’s survival skills are questionable as is his teenage companion’s bow and arrow abilities. In a role where one might think Jackson would overact, he gives an often tender performance, when he’s not trying to work a machine gun.
Action sequences are certainly not of the huge budget order, but they’re passable enough. The villains are pretty dull and non descript. For a quick fix of playful and knowingly ridiculous entertainment, Big Game isn’t bad even if its concept can’t completely sustain itself through the Finnish line. What I came away thinking the most is that director Helander could be a natural choice to helm a throwback genre that’s been rebooted or is currently producing sequels. With his clear admiration of the time period, he might do something worthwhile with Jurassic dinos or Goonies.
**1/2 (out of four)