“Big Game” throws such a preposterous action story on the screen that you immediately switch your mental gears to idle and sit back for what might be a fun ride. Yet the best efforts of Samuel L. Jackson and a small Finnish child actor named Onni Tommila, that’s a no-go too.
The film knows it’s dumb and plays the action adventure for dumb fun. But isn’t very smart about the key ingredient: a two-fishes-out-of-water story about how a boy armed with a bow and arrow and the leader of the Free World outsmart a bunch of terrorists.
It’s “Die Hard” with two desperate guys foiling the trash villains. Unfortunately, the filmmakers bleed all the fun out of the movie by not allowing the desperates to outsmart the bad guys.
The film is by Finnish writer-director Jalmari Helander (“Rare Exports”), who sets the story in his country (although most of it was shot in Germany) and populates smaller roles with Finnish actors. Then he hires Jackson and stalwart pros Ray Stevenson, Victor Garber, Felicity Huffman and Jim Broadbent to make “Big Game” an international production.
The story divides its locations into the great outdoors of mountains and forests and a Pentagon crisis room where everyone watches and comments on a hunt for the President of the United States taking place in a remote corner of northern Finland.
Mercenaries posing as big game hunters, led by Hazar (Mehmet Kurtulus), have shot Air Force One out of the sky using a surface-to-air missile — don’t question these things, just go with the flow of absurdity — but not before the President (Jackson) has been ejected in an escape pod.
He lands in the same Finnish woods where the movie’s hero, Oskari (Tommila), is undergoing a traditional coming-of-age ritual of spending a night in the forest with only a bow and arrow to bag a deer. Naturally Oskari comes upon the crashed pod and extricates the President.
Okay, goofy as all this is, there could’ve been a fun, comic action-movie twist that sees the Kid and the Prez outwit the baddies. But too much plot and not enough smarts prevail. So coincidences, blind luck and divine intervention guide these two through the story.
Too bad. The byplay between the two actors is as good as the erratic storyline is bad. About Jackson nothing need be said here although it’s a shame Helander turned Jackson into a meek punching bag for the bad guys, which goes against the grain of his screen persona.
Tommila, who is Helander’s nephew and had a role in his previous film, has charm as a little guy whose underestimate his grit and gumption. His earnest old-man face, usually smeared with dirt, and fierce determination despite his stature and mountaineering abilities earn empathetic laughs.
“My forest, my rules,” he instructs the American president. You can’t help liking the guy.
The villains are rubbish and the Pentagon crew — Ted Levine, Huffman, Broadbent and Garber — simply exist to let you know why it’s taking so unconscionably long for the American empire to rescue its stranded president.
The reason is obvious all along though. No SEALS can land until little Oskari has become the last action hero.
Opens: June 26, 2015 (EuropaCorp Distribution)
Production companies: A Subzero Film Entertainment, Altitude Film Entertainment, Egoli Tossell Film co-production
Cast: Samuel L. Jackson, Onni Tommila, Ray Stevenson, Mehmet Kurtulus, Victor Garber, Ted Levine, Felicity Huffman, Jim Broadbent
Director-screenwriter: Jalmari Helander
Based on a story by: Jalmari Helander, Petri Jokiranta
Producers: Petri Jokiranta, Will Clarke, Andy Mayson, Jens Meurer
Executive producers: Jari Tuovinen, Phil Hunt, Compton Ross, Alex Garland, Walter Donahue, Christian Angermayer, Marc Hansell, Markus R. Vogelbacher
Director of photography: Mika Orasmaa
Production designer: Christian Eisele
Music: Juri Seppa, Miska Seppa
Costume designer: Mo Vorwerck
Editor: Iikka Hesse
PG-13 rating, 86 minutes