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A Review of "Big Game" (2014)

I had no idea when I started watching that Big Game was a spiritual successor to Rare Exports.  The latter was a movie that I didn't necessarily love, but which I'd easily recommend to anyone simply on the basis of it being a wholly unique experience.  It's not really all that funny, or scary, or exciting - but I can guarantee you've never seen anything like it.

Big Game, unfortunately, feels very much like movies you've seen before.  Since it doesn't have that same luster of "wild, crazy foreign movie," its flaws are so much more glaring.  There's enough energy and fun ideas to keep it moving forward, but it winds up falling somewhere in the middle - a good, not great movie.

The plot concerns a Finnish kid named Oskari on the eve of his thirteenth birthday, which, according to his traditions, means it's time for him to undergo a rite of passage into manhood.  He'll be left alone in the mountains for a weekend to hunt for big game.  As his father and neighbors are fond of saying, "The mountain will give him whatever he deserves."

The game in question turns out to be the President of the United States, played by Samuel L. Jackson.  It turns out one of his staff has turned traitor and helps a group of terrorists to shoot down Air Force One over the mountains, and soon Oskari and SLJ have to team up to survive their deadly pursuit.

It's a fun premise, right?  You hear that and you think, "Oh, I'm laughing already!"  It's the kind of thing you almost expect as a background joke in a comedy - like the crappy movie that a fictional character is making when he isn't busy starring in the romantic comedy you're currently watching.  And maybe you're getting bored with the actual movie you're watching, so whenever the character refers to his fake movie, you start thinking, "Gee, I'd rather be watching that."

The problem with fun premises like this (and speaking of Samuel L. Jackson, Snakes on a Plane, too) is that you have to think through them carefully in order to turn them into a springboard for legitimately good content.  Otherwise you just end up with a lot masturbatory moments where your characters wink at the camera and go, "It's silly, right?  Yeah, I know.  We have fun with our ideas sometimes."

Sadly, that's what Big Game is for a fair chunk of its run-time.  An average scene has some rising tension (Oskari sees a terrorist), punctuates it with a neat line ("The mountain will give you what you deserve"), shows somebody hunch into a cool pose (Oskari draws an arrow on his bow), and then draaaaaaags that out until you forget that there was any tension.

By the time it's over, it barely feels like there even was much of a movie.  The concept should lend itself to an ordeal - something harrowing and life-altering.  But it feels more like the President just had kind of a shitty night.  When you boil it down to basics, there's really only two action pieces in the whole thing: a scene where the President is shoved into a refrigerator that eventually rolls down a hill and lands in a lake, and then a sequence where Oskari and the President swim into a partially submerged Air Force One.

On the plus side, both of those sequences are fun and inventive.  But two scenes isn't enough for a movie.  Two scenes is barely enough for a trailer.  There's this pervasive feeling I had while watching the movie where I kept thinking, "When does the movie begin?"  Big Game is missing that large chunk in the middle where everything falls apart and you have no idea how the characters are going to figure it out.  I think some people call it a "second act."

I'm being a little too much of a dick about it, though.  I don't think it's a terrible movie - what little you get to see is enjoyable.  I think it's mainly just a disappointing movie, and sometimes that can be worse.  A bad movie comes and goes and you stop thinking about it.  But Big Game is a tease.  It's the kind of movie I'll remember six years from now and I'll think, "What was that movie where Samuel L. Jackson and some kid swim into a submerged airplane and eject out of it?  I need to rewatch that."  And when I remember what the title is and I do watch it again, I'll say, "Wow, that wasn't nearly as good as I remembered."

Fingers crossed there's a director's cut some day.  I bet the 110-minute version of this movie is awesome.