In the rugged countryside of Finland, a young thirteen-year-old (Onni Tommila) embarks on a traditional quest to prove himself by spending 24 hours alone in the wild. After witnessing a spectacular crash, he discovers the escape pod from Air Force One, containing the President of the United States (Samuel L. Jackson). When they realize a group of kidnappers is hot on their trail with the intention of taking the President, this unlikely duo must escape their hunters as they wait for an American Special Forces team sent to rescue them.
Synopsis (Warning: May contain spoilers, duh!)
The Gist of It: When Air Force One is shot down by terrorists, the US President jettisons over some of Finland’s deepest forests where he teams up with a 13-year-old boy on a lone survival hunting hike; both must work together to stay one step ahead of their ruthless pursuers whilst Langley attempts a rescue.
On his 13th birthday, Oskari (Onni Tommila) is taken by his famed-hunter father Tapio (Jorma Tomilla) high into the sweeping mountains and verdant forests where he is to undergo a traditional rite of passage by spending one day and one night in the wilderness alone armed only with a bow and arrow; hopefully bringing back a trophy. But as he can barely bend his bowstring to shoot an arrow, it seems unlikely he’ll bag a deer; let alone a bear like the one his father snared during his adolescent hunting trek. Indeed, Oskari’s macho father not only casts an intimidatingly long shadow, he seems to doubt his son can ever measure up; making this an occasion in which Oskari is desperate to prove himself a man.
Meanwhile lame-duck U.S. President Moore (Samuel L. Jackson), well down in the polls and pretty much the embodiment of feebleness, is flying to a pre-G8 summit in Helsinki. But on route, Air Force One’s sensors pick up active surface-to-air missiles heading towards the aircraft and are unable to deploy any of its defensive capacities, since they’ve been disabled. To protect the President, he is rushed into a specially-made escape–pod contraption by Secret Service agent Morris (Ray Stevenson) and ejected from Air Force One over a rural mountainous area of Finland.
Followed gallantly by his secret service agents, who unfortunately all fall to their doom after having their parachutes sabotaged, Agent Morris leaps out of the plan in pursuit of the President. This spectacular scene sees him falling past the on-coming missiles that are heading for the aircraft mere seconds before Air Force One and its escort fighters are obliterated.
It turns out grudge-bearing Morris, who leaps out with the one parachute he didn’t tamper with, engineered this crisis and betrayed the Leader of the Free World. Once on the ground, he meets up with co-conspirator Hazar (Mehmet Kurtulus), a shifty Middle-Eastern oil sheik’s “over-privileged psychopath” of an illegitimate son, who’s paid a lofty sum for the pleasure of literally hunting President Moore to kill, stuff and mount as his “ultimate trophy.” President Moore is fortunate enough to land in the vicinity of Oskari who is haphazardly hunting. After briefly worrying that he’s encountered a space alien, the duo team up and Oskari vows to get the President out of the woods safely; seeing this as the perfect opportunity to prove himself to his father and his village.
Whilst this is all happening, the emergency has not escaped the notice of the Pentagon, where a senior staffer (Felicity Huffman), CIA terrorist expert (Jim Broadbent), military general (Ted Levine) and the Vice President (Victor Garber) are all-hands-on-deck in search of the missing President of the United States (POTUS). They soon fix his location via satellite, but Navy SEALs will not get there before Morris, Hazar and their terrorist cohort do their worst. The only thing that stands between the POTUS and annihilation is Oskari and his arrows.
Ludicrous premise aside ‘Big Game’ has all the trappings of a muscular, expansive popcorn adventure, with sweeping aerial shots of the spectacular terrain and a conventional, thundering orchestral score. Taken in a lighthearted spirit, it’s all good fun, with well-handled, if not increasingly, improbable action.
The juxtaposition of high tech weaponry sporting bad guys versus bow and arrow carrying hunter makes for great cat and mouse peril situations. There are echoes of the films “Predator”, “Commando” and “Rambo” scattered in this film which will please ‘80s action film fans. There is also a cynical sense of humour at work that really helps lift this from being a film totally not worth checking out.
While it has its share of one-liners and amusing beats, ‘Big Game’ plays its premise with a commendably straight face, and a beating heart. Alongside the thunderous set-pieces we’re treated to moments of sweetness between the film’s unlikely heroic duo who trade lessons in survival garnered from lives led in disparate but equally hostile environments – the rough terrain of Northern Finland and the treacherous corridors of Washington DC.
Samuel L. Jackson, who isn’t taking things too seriously here, is good as the President, playing him as less of an action guy than in some of the more recent President-under-attack films such as “White House Down”. This allows young Tommila to shine and steal the film in what should be a career kick-starting role. The evil boss Hazar (Mehmet Kurtulus), is suitably nasty and without wanting to spoil anything- it may just be that there is a double agent somewhere too.
The dialogue may be hackneyed but Jackson and Tommila have a sweet, convincing rapport that is all carried off with style, enthusiasm and buckets of goofy charm; with Osakri proving to be a steady anchor throughout the whole endeavour. (And yes, Samuel L. Jackson does get to call someone ‘motherf*cker’ right before shooting them.)
It’s not entirely clear how much of ‘Big Game’ is funny on purpose, but it hardly matters. With ‘Big Game’ packing a serious punch by keeping CGI to a distraction free minimum and exploiting the stunning location for extra production value, it doesn’t commit the cardinal sin and outstay its welcome; rather it wraps up in speedy fashion- but you’re unlikely to be satisfied after leaving your seat as the credits roll.
Taken in a lighthearted spirit, it’s all good fun. Featuring some improbable action and plot twists, lots of things disappearing in flames, and a memorable scene involving an aircraft ejector seat, ‘Big Game’ isn’t trying to be big or clever; it’s just a loud, daft and explosive B-film right down to its fingertips. For instance, there is a tonal shift in the third act of the film, beginning with Oskari’s decision to jump onto a freezer transported by a helicopter, is the “jumping the shark” moment that marks the descent of the film into a ludicrous B-grade film.
Plot loopholes are also abundant in the film, making the viewing of the film a strange experience. For instance, CIA terrorist expert Hurbert’s (Jim Broadbent) involvement in the President’s attempted assassination is not clearly explained; the same with his relationship with Hazar. Felicity Huffman’s lack of lines as the bland CIA Director also suggests that the film has been edited and re-edited into a pale translation of the original script.
To some, ‘Big Game’ may come off as a 80’s or 90’s action flick that is the lovechild of “Die Hard” and “Cliffhanger”. Accordingly, ‘Big Game’ is a rough-edged watchable survival romp that captures the spirit and mood of a classic action film; serving up a fine fillet of Finnish fun that delivers on old school thrills without ever patronising its genre.
Ultimately, few current releases offer quite so much good old-fashion fun; you can’t go wrong here.
Favourite Line: “Find the President, kill the sons of bitches who are after him and bring him back!”
Release Date: 21st May, 2015