Big Game

Just one more reason as to why Sam Jackson aboard a plane never ends well. Academy Award nominee Samuel L. Jackson, Onni Tommila, Ray Stevenson and Academy Award winner Jim Broadbent star in Big Game.

Big GameCast of Characters:
President William Allan Moore – Samuel L. Jackson
Oskari – Onni Tommila
Secret Service Agent Morris – Ray Stevenson
Vice President – Victor Garber
Hazar – Mehmet Kurtulus
Gen. Underwood – Ted Levine
CIA Director – Felicity Huffman
Herbert – Jim Broadbent

Director – Jalmari Helander
Screenplay – Jalmari Helander
Based on the book Big Game by Jalmari Helander & Petri Jokiranta
Producer – Will Clarke, Andy Mayson, Jens Meurer & Petri Jokiranta
Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense action and violence, and some language

After Air Force One is shot down by terrorists, President William Allan Moore (Samuel L. Jackson) is stranded alone in the wilderness of Finland where the only one who can save him is a 13-year-old boy by the name of Oskari (Onni Tommila). Originally planning on completing a ritual hunting mission meant to prove his maturity to his family, the inexperienced Oskari’s mission changes from hunting a prized deer to saving the president’s life from the terrorists who are seeking their own…

Wait for it…

Big Game.

Ohhhh, I see what they did there.

It’s somewhat of a shame that despite featuring an A-list star in Samuel L. Jackson, Big Game will no doubt fly under the radar for all of its limited theatrical run and eventual banishment to Redbox and Netflix Instant Queue. Not that this is shaping up for a spot on my top 10 best of the year, but this little ode to the ’80s B-movie is a lot more fun than anyone in their right mind would ever expect it to be. It’s a crazy film, that’s for sure, but Big Game knows full well just how loco it really is.

I mean, how can a film that has Samuel L. Jackson fighting to survive in a freezer and a villain that plans on stuffing him like a mounted deer trophy not be in on the joke?

Finnish writer/director Jalmari Helander doesn’t overplay his hand here and keeps things simple and straightforward. No convoluted story threads, just a point A to point B survival plot that moves at a brisk pace in under 90 minutes. Sure, a couple predictable twists and turns are thrown in here and there, but none of these “president in peril” films are complete without one of the supposed good guys coming out to reveal they’re actually the villain. You can seem ’em coming, but then again, you don’t cast Ray Stevenson as a secret service agent and expect us not to believe he’s eventually gonna backstab the Commander in Chief.

The big surprise I think most viewers will take away from this film is just how well-made it is for a low-budget effort. Of course, I’ve stated before that no film, big or small, has any excuse to slack off on putting forth a competent effort. But the fact remains that a lot of the low-budget ones, most notoriously within the action genre, have a tendency to go cheap, which is why I’ll admit that even I was somewhat taken aback by the production value. Granted, it’s not like I was so jaw-dropped and mind-blown I was expecting to see ILM or Weta Workshop’s name in the credits. There are times when it is evident that green screen is being used, but Helander effectively puts together a couple fun action setpieces, cinematographer Mika Orasmaa takes full advantage of the locations in the Swiss Alps, and there’s a climactic explosion (what’s been referred to since the Red Sea parting in The Ten Commandments as the “money shot”) that could rival anything Michael Bay tosses up on the screen.

Maybe even outdo him since it’s only one nicely done explosion, and not a million headache-inducing ones.

The supporting cast features some fine veteran presences like Victor Garber, Ted Levine, Felicity Huffman and Jim Broadbent, all of whom are pros enough to keep a straight face throughout the film. Broadbent is the most eccentric of the bunch (and not a bad choice at all to play those types) as the sandwich-munching, professor-like retired CIA operative of the group. Mehmet Kurtulus, though, gives Broadbent some colorful competition as the crazy terrorist who’s after the president (we know he’s crazy ’cause even the bad guys say he’s crazy… so I guess that means he’s crazy).

But most of the credit here, no surprise, goes to Samuel L. Jackson. Seeing him show up in smaller films is nothing new. He does about 16 of them in between the Marvel flicks each year. But unlike Bruce Willis, who does about twice as many a month, and is willing to show up and mutter lines from whoever is willing to dangle a paycheck in front of him first, Jackson shows up to play. Not that Jackson hasn’t been known to phone it in for a paycheck from time to time, but it’s nice to see him having fun with this role here (Helander edits in a sly use of sound to allow a verbal trademark of Jackson’s into the film). And even though he’s clearly the big get for this film, he’s generous enough to not overshadow newcomer Onni Tommila, who holds his own just fine against the veteran Jackson, and they manage to develop a solid chemistry together over the course of the film.

By no means will Big Game go down as the must-see flick of 2015, but it’s still a surprisingly fun and competently made send-up of the uber-cheesy action flicks from the ’80s and early ’90s that’s bolstered by a game cast of acting veterans led by an earnest turn from Samuel L. Jackson. Of course, it’s extremely campy and totally preposterous, but Jalmari Helander and his entire cast embrace the ridiculousness and put all the preposterous pieces together with a knowing wink.

I give Big Game a B- (★★★).

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