Jalmari Helander made a bit of a splash with last film, 2010’s perverse Christmas horror fantasy Rare Exports. Now, with a bigger budget and a slightly starrier cast (but retaining Tommila, the juvenile lead of his earlier film) he’s clearly setting his sights on Hollywood as he merrily revisits the brash, silly adventure films of the 1980s with this unashamedly larger-than-life romp which mixes tongue-in-cheek comedy with high octane thrills and spectacular action. Pitching in at a tight and snappy ninety minutes, Big Game is breezy, audacious fun and marks Helander down as a director more than comfortable with the conventions of the genre and we’d not be surprised to see him at the helm of some massively budgeted Hollywood action franchise in the next few years. Big Game is one hell of a calling card…
The ever-reliable Samuel L. Jackson plays the “lame duck” US President who finds himself stranded in the wilderness of a Finland forest when Air Force One is shot down by terrorists as he’s travelling to a routine summit in Helsinki. Stalked across hostile terrain by his attackers - as well as his own double-crossing embittered bodyguard Morris (Stevenson) - the President teams up with thirteen-year-old Oskari (Tommila), let loose in the forest on a hunting mission to prove his manhood to his father and his townsfolk. But unfortunately Tommila’s a pretty inept survivalist and Morris, terrorist leader Hazar (Kurtulus) and his men are closing in fast and military help from America is still hours away…
Big Game is big and dumb and it knows it. The film rarely takes itself too seriously (although its occasionally uneven tone is one of its very slight drawbacks) and there are a plenty of sly laughs to be had in the knowing dialogue and thoroughly ludicrous scenario. And yet somehow it all hangs together and works. Jackson’s clearly having fun here, his President never quite as inept and clueless as he’s painted and his relationship with young Oskari develops quickly and naturally as their situation deteriorates and they both learn to trust one another in the direst of circumstances. Stevenson and Kurtulus are a bit one-note as the gun-toting baddies (the latter’s last-reel reference to the ‘war on terror’ is particularly jarring) and the constant cuts back to rescue efforts by the Deputy President (Garber) and his team (including Jim Broadbent sporting a comfy cardie and a fitfully-convincing American accent) tend to drag when we’d rather be spending more time out in the wild, spectacular Finnish landscape.
But generally Helander keeps the story pumping along, the tension rising as set piece follows set piece leading to a final confrontation aboard the half-sunken wreck of Air Force One as the President finally mans up and Oskari earns his manhood. Big Game is delightful fun, a glorious and unselfconscious throwback to the sort of zany, high-concept adventure films we thought no-one was capable of making any more. Big Game really is quite a big deal.
INFO: / CERT: 12A / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: JALMARI HELANDER / STARRING: SAMUEL L. JACKSON, ONNI TOMMILA, RAY STEVENSON, VINCENT GARBER, JIM BROADBENT, FELICITY HUFFMAN, MEHMET KURTULUS / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
Expected Rating: 6 out of 10