Cinematographer Ernest Dickerson doesn't live up to the promise of his directing debut, "Juice," with this threadbare chase movie, which almost makes surviving the screening its own endurance test. Top-flight cast and pretty outdoor images can't overcome the pic's many deficiencies, and flat action sequences should leave even genre predators unsatisfied.

Cinematographer Ernest Dickerson doesn’t live up to the promise of his directing debut, “Juice,” with this threadbare chase movie, which almost makes surviving the screening its own endurance test. Top-flight cast and pretty outdoor images can’t overcome the pic’s many deficiencies, and flat action sequences should leave even genre predators unsatisfied.

Eric Bernt’s first produced screenplay is inspired by Richard Connell’s short story “The Most Dangerous Game,” which has been the basis, both officially and unofficially, for previous features, including John Woo’s “Hard Target” just last year. But the script meanders aimlessly — and far too leisurely — through this familiar terrain, and Dickerson seems too preoccupied with gauzy lighting to rev up the action.

Ice-T plays a homeless man, Mason, tapped by a group of hunters to lead them on a Pacific Northwest expedition only to discover that he is to be their prey.

The six sportsmen include former CIA operatives (Rutger Hauer, Charles S. Dutton, Gary Busey) who seek out the hunt as recreation, as well as a lanky Texan (John C. McGinley) and a Wall Street tycoon (F. Murray Abraham) who brings along his reluctant son (William McNamara) as a sort of rite of manhood.

Cut loose with a brief head start reminiscent of “The Naked Prey,” Mason proves surprisingly resourceful, quickly turning the tables on his pursuers — armed with high-powered rifles — in this bucolic game of cat-and-mouse.

All this would be more compelling if we knew more about Mason or, for that matter, the hunters. The movie takes more than 30 minutes before it gets into the actual hunt, but all we really learn about the protagonist is that he lost his family and likes stray dogs.

The movie is equally non-commital when it comes to political overtones, other than the wealthy hunters’ obvious disdain for the homeless, whom they’ve preyed upon before. Thankfully, considering the premise, race isn’t an issue.

While there’s some lovely photography, Dickerson doesn’t bring any flair or ingenuity to the action sequences. Some choices are baffling, including a chase through the woods so dark as to be virtually indecipherable that quickly burst into broad daylight.

Uninspired dialogue doesn’t help define any of these characters, but Ice-T projects a properly defiant stance. The bad guys are either too over the top or not crazy enough — the exception being a wild-eyed Busey, who provides a rare moment of amusing gallows humor.

Tech credits are uneven, from Stewart Copeland’s bizarre score to the special effects, which include one especially gory shot that would be revolting if it weren’t so cheesy. Pic also ends rather abruptly, though it’s doubtful anyone will be disappointed when this “Game” is over.

Surviving the Game

Production

A New Line Cinema release of a New Line production in association with David Permut Prods. Produced by Permut. Executive producer, Kevin J. Messick. Co-producer, Fred Caruso. Directed by Ernest Dickerson. Screenplay, Eric Bernt.

Crew

Camera (DeLuxe color), Bojan Bazelli; editor, Sam Pollard; music, Stewart Copeland; production design, Christiaan Wagener; art direction, Madelyne Marcom; set decoration, George Toomer Jr.; costume design, Ruth Carter; sound (Dolby), Felipe Borrero; assistant director, Randy Fletcher; stunt coordinator, Bob Minor; casting, Jodi Rothfield, Katie Ryan. Reviewed at the UA Theater, L.A., April 15, 1994. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 96 min.

With

Mason - Ice-T
Burns - Rutger Hauer
Cole - Charles S. Dutton
Hawkins - Gary Busey
Wolfe Sr. - F. Murray Abraham
Griffin - John C. McGinley
Wolfe Jr. - William McNamara
Hank - Jeff Corey
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