Movies · Reviews

Familiar Faces See CG Danger In Three New Thrillers

By  · Published on June 27th, 2015

EuropaCorp USA

The President (Samuel L. Jackson) of the United States is dropped into an unfamiliar land, forced on the run by a team of assassins and aided only by a young local boy, in Big Game. A convict framed for a crime he didn’t commit is forced to enter a life or death reality show called Turkey Shoot in a bid for his freedom, in Elimination Game. A deputy (Thomas Jane), his brother (James Marsden) and their lady folk come face to face with a killer grizzly bear in Alaska, in Into the Grizzly Maze.

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The locals may not agree, but Oskari (Onni Tommila) is on the verge of manhood. All that stands between him and their respect (begrudging or otherwise) is a night spent alone in the forest that ends with him returning to camp with the satisfying results of a solo hunt. “The forest is a harsh judge,” they tell him. “It gives each of us what we deserve.” Oskari barely has the time to worry about making his father proud before a fireball explodes deep in the forest and he stumbles across an unopened rescue pod. Air Force One has been shot out of the sky, and President William Moore (Jackson) is now lost and alone in a foreign land. With mercenaries hot on his tail, Moore must rely on the wit, skills and bravery of his new teenage friend if he wants to survive.

Writer/director Jalmari Helander made a genre splash with 2010’s Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale, and it was only a matter of time before he made the move to an English-language feature. He seems to have split the difference with Big Game – it’s in English and stars name talent, but it feels in many ways like another Finnish (ie smaller) production.

Those expecting a presidential action romp along the lines of White House Down, Olympus Has Fallen or even Air Force One will be disappointed as this is far more of a family-friendly adventure. Nameless henchmen die, but the set-pieces value goofy entertainment over visceral thrills. One bit involving a refrigerator will remind viewers of Indiana Jones’ last adventure, but most of the action exchanges are straight-forward in their basic nature.

The action is passable in general, but it’s too frequently hurt by less than stellar CG effects. It hurts the sequences, and the unimpressive visuals also lessen the dramatic stakes for our two lead characters. There’s nothing even remotely resembling a serious bone here as playfulness repeatedly outweighs reality.

Tommila is a Rare Exports veteran – one of at least three including his real-life father, Jorma Tommila – and he brings the same mix of wide-eyed innocence and energy that he displayed in his battle against the earlier film’s evil elves. The downside though is that his acting limitations, especially during the English segments, are far more evident now. He’s once again the film’s heart, but he can’t rely on the cute kid routine this time. There’s still fun to be had with his puffed up attempts at courage and bravado and his banter with Jackson, but the father/son dynamic lacks any real power.

Jackson meanwhile is just moving through scenes with a casual ease. He’s never required to do any heavy lifting, and while he participates in some of the action he’s mostly just following the teen’s lead. Ray Stevenson gives a physical performance as the President’s lead Secret Service agent, while the remainder of the recognizable performers – Jim Broadbent, Felicity Huffman, Victor Garber and Ted Levine – argue and worry back at the Pentagon sound stage.

Big Game never aims higher than slight entertainment, and it achieves that goal.

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Guardian Entertainment

Rick Tyler (Dominic Purcell) lands in Tripoli with a singular mission – to kill the Libyan dictator – but once completed he’s betrayed by his own government and sentenced to prison for war crimes. Three years later he’s handed over to the planet’s most popular game show, “Turkey Shoot,” where he’s forced to face off against an increasingly skilled group of champion assassins in a bid for his freedom and sweet jesus this is one cheap and ugly piece of crap movie.

There are two scenes, totaling no more than thirty seconds or so, of value in Elimination Game – the first is the bloody head shot that takes out the dictator (it’s so good they show it twice), and the second is a brief clip of 1982’s Turkey Shoot playing on a motel television. This new film is ostensibly a remake of that bad but fun Ozploitation classic, but aside from borrowing the name and following its Most Dangerous Game-like setup there are zero similarities to be found.

There’s not even a goddamn werewolf in a top hat.

New World Pictures

Seriously, how do you remake a movie that featured this guy – a half-man/half-wolf creature tossed into the film without explanation solely to gnaw on some poor shmuck’s toe like it was a chew-bone before being cut in half by a bulldozer – and not make recreating him the number one priority for your reboot?

Instead we get Purcell – who apparently blew all of his Prison Break residuals on Zoomba classes and is now stuck headlining terrifically shitty direct-to-DVD action movies – as an ex-Navy SEAL taking on “shooters” straight out of the Mortal Kombat name generator including Armageddon, Killshot and Golgotha. 1987’s The Running Man did the same thing, but at least it embraced the game show spectacle with fun set pieces and a true showman as host (Richard Dawson). Here we get two nobodies as hosts acting poorly in front of a $4 green-screen effect.

Director Jon Hewitt uses the excuse that this is a game show to limit the action – well, more like sloppily-edited movements than action – to clips caught on CCTV cameras. They even give Purcell’s character a “hoodie” at one point solely so Purcell himself wouldn’t have to be a part of the scenes. Instead we’re stuck squinting at a body double who in no way resembles Purcell’s trademarked “Steve Carell on steroids” appearance taking part in snippets of some incredibly lackluster fights. A car chase is even hobbled together at one point with footage from various sources making it clear that at no time were any of these same people or vehicles in the same geographic location. There are more exterior shots in the trailer for Turkey Shoot than there are in the entirety of this reboot.

As bad as the “action” scenes are the time spent between them is even less bearable. Stilted dialogue and lazy acting echoes off the walls in scenes that feel like they were filmed in a 4×6 room – probably a storage locker that the production rented for the two days it took to make this abysmally incompetent wet fart of a movie. Brian Trenchard-Smith’s original was a reaction of sorts to the ideologies of Ronald Reagan and his ilk, and this one’s attempt to mine similar political subtext results in nothing more than a shallow echo of the original’s already thin efforts.

I’m not one for knee-jerk reactions to remakes – the good ones find some way to improve upon the earlier film and make their own mark, while the bad ones are forgettable and in no way harm the original – but remaking a movie like Turkey Shoot into a cheap, generic and lifeless “action” pic is the most idiotic attempt at a cash grab I’ve seen in some time. The original was inexpensive, but the creativity and madness made up for the low budget. Recent reboots like Total Recall and Robocop are dull but at least have eye candy and talented actors slumming along for the ride – Elimination Game, by contrast, is currently in limited theatrical release and on VOD.

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Vertical Entertainment

Deputy Beckett (Thomas Jane) keeps order in his not-so small corner of the Alaskan wilderness, but he finds his authority challenged when his estranged brother, Rowan (James Marsden), returns to town with bad luck in tow. A grizzly bear has begun munching on people in the woods, and when Beckett discovers his deaf wife (Piper Perabo) might be wandering in the hairy beast’s vicinity the brothers head into the forest to execute a rescue and a bear.

Into the Grizzly Maze is worth watching for the fun cast alone which also includes Scott Glenn and Billy Bob Thornton as a local hunter well-practiced in catching bears by their toes, but everything beyond the performers is sadly generic and over-reliant on CG threats.

The maze of the title is a section of the woods so-named because “even a grizzly could get lost down there,” and that’s exactly where our heroes head in their impromptu adventure. Once it’s been identified though the characters never actually appear to get lost. This makes them smarter than your average bears I guess. The script (by Guy Moshe and J.R. Reher) moves the various players through their expected paces from brotherly friction to deaf-lady shenanigans to the shifty antics you just know Thornton is up to, but the cast is enough to keep us interested.

Far less successful though is the direction by David Hackl that can’t manage a single scare or suspenseful moment. The one-ton bear repeatedly sneaks up on characters – an impressive feat seeing as not even rabbits can move through the woods without crunching leaves or snapping twigs – and worse, he’s a CG threat far more frequently than a flesh and blood one. It wouldn’t surprise me to hear that none of the leads even saw a bear during filming.

The film also has the great misfortune of hitting screens so soon after the far superior Backcountry tread some similar ground. That film delivers some legitimately terrifying and disturbing sequences during its bear attacks. This one can barely stifle a yawn thanks to the excessive CG – it’s especially frustrating because we do get some solid practical effects work showcasing the bear’s handiwork. The cartoon danger is especially prevalent in the finale leaving those last set-pieces drained of suspense or thrills.

Into the Grizzly Maze (aka Grizzly, aka Endangered, aka Red Machine) misses the mark as a thriller and instead plays more like a familiar, lightweight adventure. Watch it for the enjoyable cast, then throw in Backcountry.

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Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he's so damn young. He's our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists 'Broadcast News' as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.