The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Big Game

When I first read the plot synopsis for Big Game, I laughed out loud. It sounded so dumb: “A young teenager camping in the woods helps rescue the President of the United States when Air Force One is shot down near his campsite.” But dumb can work when the filmmakers are in on the joke. In this case, the writer/director is Jalmari Helander. He made the delightfully bizarre cult Christmas favorite Rare Exports - a movie you should seek out if you've never seen it. Helander definitely works in a tongue-in-cheek manner, and Big Game is actually quite fun.

Samuel L. Jackson plays President William Alan Moore. A corrupt Secret Service agent, Morris (Ray Stevenson), has sold him out to Hazar (Mehmet Kurtulus), the overprivileged son of an oil sheik. Hazar doesn't really have any political agenda; he's basically just a hunter who wants to kill and stuff the biggest game possible. What could be bigger than the most powerful man in the free world? They conspire to crash Air Force One over Helsinki, and Morris puts Moore into an escape pod to get him on the ground. Before Hazar can begin hunting him, though, 13-year-old Oskari (Onni Tommila) stumbles upon the pod. Oskari has been dropped off in the woods by his father as part of a ritual in which teen boys are forced to fend for themselves to prove their manhood. The timid lad ends up helping the President elude Hazar and his goons. Meanwhile, the Vice President (Victor Garber) works with a terrorism expert (Jim Broadbent) to spearhead a rescue mission.

Big Game is something of an homage to '80s action pictures like Commando and the Rambo movies. It's full of absurd over-the-top action scenes designed for no other purpose than to get the audience's adrenaline pumping. The craziest of them is a sequence in which Moore is shoved in a freezer, which is then dangled from a helicopter and hauled through the woods while Oskari straddles it, shooting arrows at the pilot above. Yes, it's that kind of movie. There is something about this deliberately preposterous approach that works, though. Big Game clues you in early that it shouldn't be taken too seriously, so if you're willing to accept the intentional defiance of reality, it's not hard to enjoy the mayhem.

Plotwise, nothing happens that you won't see coming, yet it's handled well nonetheless. Oskari is initially a very scared kid. Even his father thinks he's going to fail his big test. At some level, the boy is also an opportunist, though. He's aware that helping to save the President of the United States is a bigger deal than his dad or any of the other local men have ever faced. Therefore, if he can help, he'll be the hero they all expect him to be – and then some. This notion also drives Big Game's wittiest recurring joke, which is that action star Samuel L. Jackson plays a character who can't take care of himself and relies on a tween to protect him. That whole concept – powerless kid helping a world leader – is a clever-enough twist to make everything go down smoother than it should. Terrific chemistry between the two leads is also a plus.

Big Game has been directed with style and energy. It's a big, silly piece of entertainment, not unlike another Samuel L. Jackson thriller, Snakes on a Plane. I'm not an advocate of the “turn your brain off” philosophy of movie-watching. I like thinking and don't feel it's a benefit when a film asks me not to. Big Game doesn't ask you to not think; it asks you to think differently, to surrender to the pleasures of a crazy, imaginative concept executed for maximum awesomeness. Mission accomplished.

( out of four)

Note: Big Game is available in theaters and on VOD.

Big Game is rated PG-13 for sequences of intense action and violence, and some language. The running time is 1 hour and 28 minutes.

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