Toronto Film Review: ‘Big Game’

A 13-year-old Finnish boy saves POTUS from assassins in this ridiculous but fun action adventure.

Big Game Toronto Film Festival

Imagine a movie of the “Only one man can save the President” ilk, change that to “Only one boy…” and you’ve got the gist of “Big Game.” This fun if patently silly juvenile action-adventure has Samuel L. Jackson as a POTUS deliberately downed in the Northern Finnish mountains, where he has only a local 13-year-old to keep him alive — and one step ahead of his assassins. Where writer-helmer Jalmari Helander’s prior Xmas nightmare, “Rare Exports,” was a distinctively Finnish product (albeit one with high gloss), this sophomore feature is very much in the style of a big, bombastic Hollywood action pic. Whether it will be swallowed by the wider offshore audience desired is uncertain, since despite a tongue at least partly in cheek, it may well seem too ridiculous for subtitle-averse mainstream viewers.

On his 13th birthday, Oskari (“Export’s” Onni Tommila) is taken by his famed-hunter father (Jorma Tomilla) high into the mountains. There he’ill undergo a traditional rite of passage by spending 24 hours in the wilderness alone, 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 dad overcame on his own adolescent hunting trek. Indeed, Oskari’s macho pa not only casts an intimidatingly long shadow, he seems to doubt his son can ever measure up. Ergo this occasion is one the boy greets both braced for humiliation and desperate to prove himself.

Meanwhile lame-duck U.S. President Moore (Jackson), well down in the polls — there’s little question just which real President provides the model here — is flying to a summit in Helsinki. But sensors pick up active missiles nearby, and Air Force One’s defensive capacities have been disabled. He’s pushed into an evacuation pod by Secret Service agent Morris (Ray Stevenson) just before that plane and all accompanying fighter jets are destroyed in mid-air.

It turns out grudge-bearing Morris — who leaps out with the one parachute he didn’t tamper with — engineered this crisis. Once on the ground, he meets up with co-conspirator Hazar (Mehmet Kurtulus), an oil sheik’s “overprivileged psychopath” of an illegitimate son, who’s paid a lofty sum for the pleasure of literally hunting Moore to kill, stuff and mount as his “ultimate trophy.” Moore is fortunate enough to land not near them but in the vicinity of Oskari. After briefly worrying that he’s encountered a space alien, the latter becomes an ally if a precociously reins-seizing one, still fixated primarily on bagging some forest creature to impress dad. (When Moore complains about not being taken directly to civilization, the brat barks “My forest, my rules.”)

This 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 VP (Victor Garber) all wring hands over the missing POTUS. They soon fix his location via satellite, but Navy SEALs may well not get there before Morris, Hazar, et al. do their worst. Clearly this is a crisis that can only be manfully and triumphantly resolved by…a pubescent Finnish whelp.

Ludicrous premise aside, “Big Game” has all the trappings of a muscular, expansive popcorn adventure, with sweeping aerial shots of the spectacular terrain (much of it actually shot in Germany) and a conventional, thundering orchestral score. Taken in a lighthearted spirit, it’s all good fun, with well-handled if increasingly improbable action. It’s not always clear just how much Helander is in on his own joke, however, and some audiences who take feature at face value may be forgiven for thinking it’s just about the dumbest thing they’ve ever seen.

Jackson surely isn’t taking things too seriously here; other thesps are OK in various poker-faced and/or one-dimensional parts. Apart from a moment or two when digital VFX work doesn’t quite convince, the production is high-grade in all tech and design departments.

Toronto Film Review: ‘Big Game’

Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Midnight Madness), Sept. 11, 2014. Running time: <strong>90 MIN.</strong>

  • Production: (Finland-Germany-U.K.) A EuropaCorp USA release (in U.S.) of a Subzero Film Entertainment, Altitude Film Entertainment and Egoli Tossell Film production in association with Visionplus Fund I, Head Gear Films & Metrola Technology, Film House Germany and Bavaria Film Partners. (International sales: Altitude, London.) Produced by Petri Jokiranta, Will Clarke, Andy Mayson, Jens Meurer. Executive producers, Jari Tuovinen, Phil Hunt, Compton Ross, Alex Garland, Mike Runagall, Walter Donohue Christian Angermayer, Marc Hansell, Markus R. Vogelbacher.
  • Crew: Directed by Jalmari Helander. Screenplay, Helander, from a story by Helander and Petri Jokirarita. Camera (color, widescreen, HD), Mika Orasmaa; editor, Iikka Hesse; music, Juri Seppa, Miska Seppa; production designer, Christian Eisele; costume designer, Mo Vorwerck; art director, Hucky Hornberger; set decorator, Andreas Widmann; sound recordist, Oliver Jergis; re-recording mixer, Olli Parnanen; sound editor, Erno Kumpulainen; sound designers, Tuomas Seppanen, Timo Antitila; visual effects, Scanline VFX; stunt coordinators, Marc Seiger,Torsten Jerabek; assistant director, Jochen Gosch.
  • With: Samuel L. Jackson, Onni Tommila, Ray Stevenson, Mehmet Kurtulus, Victor Garber, Ted Levine, Felicity Huffman, Jim Broadbent, Jorma Tomilla. (English, Finnish dialogue.)