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


Into the Grizzly Maze

Into the Grizzly Maze is at a disadvantage, coming as it does just a couple months after the release of Adam MacDonald's supremely terrifying Backcountry. That movie dramatically raised the bar on killer bear flicks. It's a hard act to follow. But whereas Backcountry took the idea seriously, Into the Grizzly Maze unapologetically opts to go for full B-movie glory. There are moments here that are so over-the-top loony, you might just find yourself clapping your hands and giggling in delight. And then there's all the other stuff.

James Marsden and Thomas Jane play Rowan and Beckett, two brothers who were raised in the Alaskan wilderness. Their late father taught them to respect the wild, as well as the dangerous creatures who inhabit it. After not seeing one another for years, Rowan shows up at Beckett's house, announcing that he wants to venture deep into the woods to achieve some kind of personal closure. No sooner does he arrive than a grizzly bear begins feeding on people. The brothers, together with Beckett's deaf wife Michelle (Piper Perabo), decide to use the skills their father taught them to hunt the animal down before it can harm anyone else. However, to paraphrase a famous cartoon character named Yogi, this grizzly is smarter than your average bear. It is capable of sneak attacks; the victims never hear it coming. Billy Bob Thornton plays Douglass, another local tracker whose methodology is suspect. He wants the bear, too. Everyone thus descends into the densest section of the forest – a place dubbed “the grizzly maze” that is easy to become hopelessly lost in.

Into the Grizzly Maze is half a fun movie, half an aimless one. The domestic dramas faced by Rowan and Beckett are as bland as they are generic. A little time is spent developing the conflict between them, but not enough to make it any different from a million other, similar domestic dramas you've seen awkwardly shoved into horror movies. Marsden and Jane try to bring some life to the material, although their efforts are undone by the fact that the movie is really only interested in the human element to the extent that it pads things out in between bear attacks. There's a fair amount of exposition about their estrangement and troubled childhood. Nothing you could accurately call “engaging” or “satisfyingly resolved,” though. Another example is the way the film handles Michelle's deafness. She is in no way developed as a character, and her deafness is a plot point solely to put her in increased danger at a certain point.

Into the Grizzly Maze puts far more effort into the bear attacks. Director David Hackl (Saw V) doesn't hold back in showing ghastly, bloody carnage. Because the bear can sneak up, the audience – like the characters onscreen – is often caught off guard. In other words, you will jump. The third act is especially unhinged. Beckett, Rowan, and Douglass get trapped in the grizzly maze and all hell breaks loose. At this point, the movie goes full-bore exploitation flick, offering up a climactic battle that is captivating in its sheer preposterousness. You'll see an amazingly disgusting piece of prosthetic/make-up work, a dubious bit of CGI, and a sequence of events so absurd that you'll wonder if the movie is being serious or playing it all for a laugh – and you won't care. Either way, it's delightful fun in precisely the way you'd expect a semi-cheesy animal attack flick to be.

The lack of really compelling human material is disappointing. The bear stuff, as amusingly goofball as it often is, would be even better with more thorough characterization and/or plot development. As such, Into the Grizzly Maze only works up to a point. The last half-hour – with Thornton's knowing, self-satirical performance and a non-stop parade of insane bear mayhem – is sufficiently entertaining to justify a viewing for B-movie aficionados. You just have to slog through a fair amount of dull, uninspired “brotherly bonding” clichés to get to it.

( 1/2 out of four)

Into the Grizzly Maze is rated R for violence, grisly images, language and brief sexuality/nudity. The running time is 1 hour and 32 minutes.

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