One of many entertaining parts in late Roger Ebert’s memoir “Life Itself” is the story about how he participated in the production of Russ Meyer’s “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls” (1970) as its screenplay writer. While Ebert’s screenplay was intended as a wild, outrageous mix of various genres including satire, melodrama, rock music musical, and violent exploitation film, Meyer approached to the story and characters with absolute seriousness even at its most ridiculous moments, and that odd approach resulted in an immortal trash worthwhile to watch at least for appreciating another side of a great film critic with whom I luckily corresponded for a few years before his death (my short twitter comment on the film: “My initial reaction on “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls” was like a kid finding the naughty photos from his grandpa’s wild years.”).
In case of “Big Game”, the people behind it did know how outrageous their film is, and they admirably maintain enough amount of seriousness like Meyer did in “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls”. The actors in the film all look serious in their acting while never winking at the audiences, and the soundtrack surely sounds very grave with no hint of sarcasm. This is certainly an effective approach for its intention, but the movie does not have enough craziness to play against its serious attitude, and, unfortunately, that deficiency eventually prevents it from being a genuine guilty pleasure to be cherished.
Onni Tommila, who has grown up a lot since we saw him for the last time in “Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale” (2010), plays Oskari, a Finnish boy who will have to go through a coming-of-age hunting ritual for proving his manhood to his father Tapio (Jorma Tommila, who is Onni Tommila’s father and also co-starred with his son in “Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale”) and others. Oskari will go for hunt alone on the day before his 13th birthday, and then he must return on the next day with any game he catch for being officially recognized as a man. Although he does not seem quite ready for this while his father’s reputation puts another burden on his shoulder, he is determined to try hard as much as he can, and he soon enters a remote mountain forest area as his father and others watch his departure.
Oskari hopes to catch anything as big as a bear his father once caught when he was at Oskari’s age, but then he comes across a game bigger than he has ever imagined. A plane suddenly crashes from the sky, and then he comes upon the escape capsule, which carries none other than the President of the United States. President William Alan Moore (Samuel L. Jackson) was going to the Summit to be held in Helsinki, but then Air Force One was shot by the missiles launched by a group of terrorists, and now he has to depend on Oskari because it seems there is no one surviving from the crash.
Meanwhile, the Vice president (Victor Garber) and other high-ranking officials immediately gather at the situation room in the Pentagon for this emergency situation, and it becomes clear to them that they must find President Moore as soon as possible before it is too late. It looks like Hazar (Mehmet Kurtulus), the leader of the terrorist group in question, wants to catch President Moore alive for some crazy purpose, and Morris (Ray Stevenson), one of the Secret Service agents, turns out to be an accomplice in Hazar’s operation (This is not a spoiler at all, for you can instantly sense that right from the instant when you see Stevenson’s sullen badass face for the first time). With Morris’ helpful assistance, the terrorists track down President Moore and Oskari, and, as the people at the Pentagon begin to realize there is really nothing they can do for rescuing the President or stopping the terrorists, it is apparent that Oskari is President Moore’s only hope.
Now everything seems to be ripen for a ridiculous romp, but, as often spinning its wheels, the movie hesitates to fully embrace its silliness. I appreciated its efforts to make itself look like your average serious B-action film, and I also enjoyed its tongue-in-cheek homage to “E.T. the Extra-terrestrial” (1982), but the movie is visibly deficient in the loony energy required to elevate itself to the level of goofy entertainment. While I certainly laughed at that silly action sequence featuring a helicopter and one certain refrigerator which turns out to be a lot more durable than it seems at first, the movie does not have many amusing moments like that, and that makes the story feel dragged especially during the middle part, which dully goes back and forth between the terrorists searching for their target and President Moore reluctantly spending some time with Oskari as demanded.
Mildly amused to some degrees, I observed how the actors managed to keep their faces and performances straight and intact on the screen. Onni Tommila deserves commendation for holding the center well with his engaging lead performance, and Samuel L. Jackson wisely dials down his intense screen persona for supporting his young co-star. I have no idea on how Jackson came to accept his role, but he did his thankless job with good spirit as a professional actor, and the same thing can be said about many other recognizable actors in the film including Victor Garber, Ted Levine, Ray Stevenson, Felicity Huffman, and Jim Broadbent, who occasionally steals the show with his avuncular presence as a veteran CIA analyst.
“Big Game” is not entirely a dud, but it remains a letdown compared to the director/writer Jalmari Helander’s previous work “Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale”. That offbeat fantasy adventure film also looks serious in its dark, creepy tone, but it is also quite amusing at times in its horror variation of a Santa Claus myth, and I still remember many of its naughty moments including a bunch of naked bearded figures running wild in the blizzard or the surprisingly humorous closing scene which cheerfully reveals the meaning of the title of the movie. “Big Game” could go more actively for such an outrageously enjoyable fun like that, and it was disappointing to see that it turned out to be not as entertaining as it could have been with its ludicrous premise.
By the way, as I was preparing for this review, one of Ebert’s old reviews somehow came to my mind. In his amused three-star review on “If Looks Could Kill” (1991), Ebert noted that the movie is “the only film I can recall in which a mad economist traps an entire Detroit high school French class in an iron cage suspended above a cauldron of boiling gold.” Too bad “Big Game” does not have anything as memorable as that for our amusement.