Fifteen minutes into a serious thriller about shooting down Air Force One and kidnapping the president, “Big Game” turns seriously silly.
But we’re in the hands of the writer-director of the Finnish “Santa Claus is a monster” movie, “Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale.” So it’s goofy by design.
Samuel L. Jackson’s the president who survives the crash that turncoat Secret Service agent Morris (Ray Stevenson) has engineered in a presidential “escape pod.” The person who pops him out of the pod, lost in the wilds of Finland, wants to communicate via a paper-cup and string “telephone.”
“From what planet are you from? Do you come in peace?”
Jackson fights back the desire, the NEED, to use his favorite expletives. Very presidential. And prudent. His savior is a boy just turning 13, a Finnish kid (Onni Tommilla) who insists the Prez (whom he doesn’t recognize) call him “Ranger.” The in-over-his-head kid is on a solo bear hunt, a rite of passage among Finland’s Duck Dynasty crowd.
“Big Game” — and as a villain notes, “game doesn’t get any bigger” than a president played by Samuel L. Jackson — is a violent formula actioner stuffed into a PG-13 box. Writer-director Jalmari Helander pulls his punches and goes more goofy than gonzo in this survivalist shootout. The result is a movie that won’t please his fans, or the kids he waters this down for.
“Ranger,” or Oskari, may be so rural that he has more knowledge of driving an offroad four-wheeler than who the U.S. president might be. But he speaks English, spoiling the most promising comic possibilities here — a language barrier. It’s easy to envision a foul-mouthed President Samuel L. trying to make himself understood and respected by a Finnish kid with a bow and arrow.
Instead, Oskari and President Moore set out to finish the boy’s Finnish vision quest, and then rescue the POTUS.
“Tomorrow, I will be a man,” the boy insists.
The president makes little effort to get a sense of urgency into this boy. Even after the people who shot down his plane (Mehmet Kurtulus is their leader) show up and start shooting and chasing.
Meanwhile, Jim Broadbent is the wily old spy brought in to run the government’s efforts to satellite track and bring back the president. Victor Garber is the vice president, Felicity Huffman the CIA chief, Ted Levine a general at a loss for cleaning up this mess.
Jackson’s best acting comes in every moment he plays a passive president in the hands of a wimpy hunter-boy who can’t even draw back his bow.
“Sometimes, you don’t have to be tough, just look tough,” he counsels the kid.
“The forest is a harsh judge,” Mini Mel Gibson hisses back. “It gives each of us what we deserve.”
The production values and high-caliber cast suggest “Big Game” had better intentions than results. Helander may have memorized “Die Hard” and “Air Force One” and “Olympus Has Fallen.” But his version of that formula, given the loopy twist of making a woodsman/kid the hero “with particular skills,” loses most everything in translation.
MPAA Rating: PG – 13 for sequences of intense action and violence, and some language
Cast: Samuel L. Jackson, Onni Tommila, Ray Stevenson, Felicity Huffman, Victor Garber, Jim Broadbent
Credits: Written and directed by Jalmari Helander. A Relativity release.
Running time: 1:26