Movies that pit a kid, or a group of children, against adults fills a certain wish fulfilment in a particular demographic, because what kid didn’t imagine he was one of the Goonies, hunting pirate treasure while the nasty Fratelli family were hot on their heels? And who didn’t want to be Kevin McAllister as he defended his home from the Wet Bandits? However, the trick in making this genre of film is that it not only must appeal to the young, but to the young at heart as well. Today, we will look at director Jalmari Helander’s film Big Game, which has a small boy up against a group of terrorists who are hunting The President of the United States, and we will see if the simple criteria of the genre is met.
Our little protagonist for the Big Game is thirteen-year-old Oskari (Onni Tommila), who is sent into the wilds of Finland’s forests to bring back a deer to prove his manhood. Note: I’m not one to criticise another culture’s traditions, but I think sending a kid alone into the vast wilderness, with nothing but an ATV and an old map seems a tad irresponsible. Even Oskari himself is unsure of his ability to pull of his trial of manhood, as he is unable to do the traditional “Pulling of the Bow” in front of his father and friends.
So we are to believe the adults in this movie are totally cool with sending a kid off into the wilderness to kill a deer, when the poor little guy can’t even loose an arrow properly? They don’t even seem to have supplied him with a radio to call for help if he gets hurt or lost. This is some tough parenting.
Of course, the “Big Game” that the title of this movie is referring to isn’t any ole deer, for flying across the skies of Finland is Air Force One, where The President of the United States is on route to a conference in Helsinki. US President William Alan Moore (Samuel L. Jackson) is considered by many as a “Lame Duck” president, and the only one who seems to be in his corner is his body-man Morris (Ray Stevenson), a disgruntled Secret Service agent who once took a bullet for Moore. If you have guessed that this trusted agent will betray the President, then you’ve probably seen Air Force One with Harrison Ford, where in that movie it also had the turncoat being the head of the President’s Secret Service detail. So don’t be expecting much originality out of this film.
As in Air Force One, the villainous Secret Service agent isn’t working alone: on the ground there is a group of terrorists led by Hazar (Mehmet Kurtulus) — who is trying to be a mix between Alan Rickman’s Hans Gruber from Die Hard and Gary Oldman’s Egor Korshunov from Air Force One — but instead of coming across as even remotely threatening, we are treated to cartoonish levels of evil — they even pull out the old trope of him killing some of his own men, just to show how EVIL he is. This particular trope is one of my most hated, as the remaining henchman must realize their boss is either nuts or an idiot, and neither of those options could lead to a good ending, thus putting a bullet into the back of Hazar’s head, and calling it a day, is what any sane member of that team should do.
The movie finally gets going when Hazar has Air Force One blown out of the sky with a Chinese shoulder-launched missile. And exactly how is the most protected aircraft in the world brought down by this bunch of Middle Eastern yahoos? Well, Morris, our turncoat Secret Service agent, had managed to disable Air Force One’s countermeasures, which allowed this small shoulder-launched missile to get through, but then, we also see the five escort fight jets being blown up, and that makes no fucking sense. For this to have worked, we have to believe that the pilots, upon detecting an incoming missile, panicked and forgot that they were in one of the most maneuverable plane’s in existence, because I don’t buy for a second that a Secret Service agent would have had access to these planes to shut down their countermeasures, not to mention that he’d have to somehow remove their ability to maneuver as well.
Morris hustles The President into Air Force One’s escape pod telling him, “I will find you on the ground,” but once the pod is launched, we discover, not so shockingly, that Morris has betrayed his office, as his fellow Secret Service teammates parachute out after the President’s pod, only to find that none of their chutes open. The last remaining agent notices the chutes have failed before he jumps, and thus Morris is forced to shoot that poor observant dude in the head. It’s at this point that the film derails and becomes simply “A Boy’s Adventure Story,” but without any ounce of reason or logic. It’s when Air Force One crashes, scaring the crap out of poor Oskari, that the movie enters the “What the fuck portion” of our evening.
• The President’s escape pod cannot be opened from inside — a code must be entered on an exterior panel — but this means if the pod landed in water there is a good chance The President would drown. Not a good design in my opinion.
• When Oskari frees President Moore from the pod, the two begin their trek through the Finnish wilderness, but why? The President doesn’t know that the man coming to find the pod has betrayed him, so him leaving that area — the only place his people know where to find him — makes no sense whatsoever.
• Morris confidently walks up to an armed President Moore because he knows the gun’s safety is on. Not only is the “Safety on” cliché so overused, but Morris is relying on Moore not finding the safety in the time it takes him to close the distance between them.
• In a moment that challenges the nuclear fridge scene from Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull for implausibility, Oskari and Moore survive being bounced down a mountainside while inside a freezer.
The key difference between this film and the aforementioned Goonies and Home Alone is that those movies were family comedies and the villains were goofy hapless morons, but in Big Game, Morris and Hazar are not supposed to be incompetent, yet for some reason, the script keeps insisting that they are. Director Jalmari Helander hasn’t delivered a terrible film with Big Game, just one that is very disappointing, especially considering how good his dark holiday movie Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale was. That film also starred Onni Tommila as the young boy trying his best to save the day, only in that outing it was done properly. If you are hunting for a good family adventure film, this is one that falls into the “Catch and Release” category, as its nonsensical script and implausible action, completely fails to really engage the viewer.
Note: To add insult to injury this film has quite the stellar supporting cast that includes Victor Garber, Felicity Huffman, Ted Levine and Jim Broadbent, and then it sticks them all in a room together to provide useless expository dialogue.