It showed up in our mailbox, via Netflix/DVD. (Yes, we still do that). An action movie starring Samuel L. Jackson, set in Finland. Some good actors in the cast: Felicity Huffman, Jim Broadbent, Victor Garber. We wondered why we’d never heard of it; an action movie, with Sam Jackson, surely it deserved some marketing muscle behind it. Worth giving a try, anyway. So we watched it.
And we discovered the Finnish Luc Besson.
This is very exciting for me. If you’ve followed my reviews, you know how much I love all things Luc Besson, the auteur responsible for the Taken movies, plus Lucy, plus The Fifth Element, plus the Transporter movies, plus a whole passel of crappy action flicks. Besson films always have three elements: terrific chase and fight scenes, moments of family values sentimentality, plus plots that make absolutely no sense whatsoever. As Pauline Kael used to say, if movies can’t be great art, they can at least be great trash, and Besson has made it his life’s mission to keep the B-movie tradition alive.
And now, there’s another one. Meet Jalmari Helander. Meet Big Game.
Samuel L. Jackson plays the President of the United States. He’s in Air Force One, en route to a summit in Helsinki. Meanwhile, a kid named Onni Tommila, plays Oskari, a twelve-year old going through what seems to be a rural Finnish rite of passage. He’s supposed to go out alone in the woods, with a tractor and some supplies, but armed only with a bow and arrow, which he’s not physically strong enough to use very well, and bring back some ‘big game.’ A deer, a bear, a moose, something.
Meanwhile, though, the head of the President’s Secret Service detail, Morris (Ray Stevenson), has turned traitor, apparently because he has no respect for the President’s level of physical fitness. (“He can’t even manage a push-up,” Morris sneers to a fellow terrorist). So he’s giving POTUS up, to a terrorist named Hazar (Mehmet Kurtulus). Hazar has several fellow terrorist mooks working for him, who Morris just randomly shoots occasionally, without warning or, as far as I can tell, a reason. Anyway, Hazar doesn’t have any particular ideological point to make by kidnapping/killing the President. (He goes back and forth on which he intends). He wants to stuff him and mount him, and put him on display. Yes, a terrorist plot involving Presidential taxidermy.
So, Air Force One gets shot down, the President escapes in his escape pod, ends up in the deep Finnish forest, where young Oskari finds and rescues him. The rest of the movie is about the relationship between POTUS and this young Finnish kid (who speaks darn good English, turns out), as the kid rescues Sam Jackson repeatedly and increasingly implausibly, from terrorists.
If I’m making it sound good, I’m not describing it well. Everything about the premise of the movie screams implausibility, which then gets ratcheted upwards. Meanwhile, back in a Washington situation room (the design based on Dr. Strangelove, I think), Victor Garber, playing the Vice-President, emotes unconvincingly over this terrible thing that’s happened to our poor country, and Felicity Huffman (an advisor of some kind), brings in Jim Broadbent, a CIA analyst, who instantly figures out exactly what’s going on and what should be done about it. Which involves scrambling a SEAL team to Finland. Which would seem to render the Finnish kid a trifle unnecessary. But the movie isn’t worried about illogic. In fact, that’s mostly what it’s selling.
Okay, this is a SPOILER, so don’t read this paragraph if you don’t want to know, but it’s just so wonderful, I have to tell you about it. At a climactic moment near the end of the movie, Morris is in a helicopter. Morris saved the President years ago, took a bullet for him, but the doctors couldn’t remove a shard next to his heart. The President and the kid are dangling from a parachute, also up in the sky. (Don’t ask). The kid pulls out his bow and arrow, and shoots at Morris. The arrow flies true. It hits Morris in the chest. It doinks off and falls harmlessly away–the kid just isn’t strong enough to do much damage with his bow. Morris smiles evilly and pulls out his automatic weapon. And grabs his chest. The arrow gave him a heart attack! It doinked off, and dislodged, the bullet shard! I’m watching with my wife and daughter, and all three of us were in stitches.
And that’s the thing about movies like Big Game. Bad movies can be fun. A certain kind of clunker can actually entertain. And this is exactly that kind of crap. It’s ridiculous, of course, and completely implausible, but it’s also sort of fun. It’s not Taken-level trash, of course, but this is also Jalmari Helander’s first feature film. I expect great things from his future.
The acting . . . I don’t know Ray Stevenson at all–just not familiar with the man’s work–but based on this, I’d say he’s a scenery-chewer of the first order. He also postures nicely. But then, it’s not like the character he’s playing makes a lick of sense. Sam Jackson does Sam Jackson things, including almost, but not quite, getting to say the ‘Sam Jackson word.’ The kid, Onni Tommila, was actually quite good. Victor Garber, I think, was directed to over-act–he’s a solid pro, and is usually better than this. Jim Broadbent clearly figured out early on what kind of movie this is, and fitted his performance to that reality. I hope the check cleared. For all of them, really.
Oh, my goodness. It’s truly terrible. And also, truly entertaining. Funny how that can happen with certain kinds of movies. And if you do check it out, Finland looks lovely. So there’s always something to look at. Movies don’t always give us even that amount of pleasure.