About halfway through Jalmari Helander’s sophomore feature Big Game, I was getting a little irritated. Not just because the film features a silly story embellished with chintzy CGI and featuring Samuel L. Jackson playing the President of the United States in a role that might as well had him plaster a sign on his forehead saying, “I Am Available for Cash.” But namely because I just couldn’t get into the events unfolding. This was odd, because the story is as simple and fun as I thought it would be. By the time I realized what my problem was, the film was deep into its third act and I was too far gone to reverse my course on what was unfolding. My issue: I didn’t realize Big Game might very well be a children’s movie. Allow me to explain.
As the film opens, we meet young Oskari, a Norwegian boy who lives in a small, chilly town near the mountains. His father is a brusque man who informs his now 13-year-old son that at this age, every male in their family has been sent into the wild to kill an animal in order to become a man — kind of a “hunt mitzvah” for their village that seems to be populated entirely by burly men. Oskari is a very small 13-year-old, and as he unsteadily embarks on his mission, we see he can barely knock an arrow on his bow, the only weapon he has to kill a bear, deer or elk. But Oskari must complete his quest in order to prove himself to his father and the rest of the man-village.
Shortly after this plotline is laid out, we’re whisked aboard Air Force One, where US President William Alan Moore (“Bill,” to friends) is cruising at high altitude and struggling with the real world problem of whether or not to have another cookie (spoiler alert: he does). There’s some kind of scuttlebutt about a treaty he may sign or some kind of big political issue, but all of this is just idle chatter because the Presidential plane is soon shot down by some wacko terrorist using an air-to-surface missile and Mr. President is barely able to get his motherfuckin’ self off the motherfuckin’ plane via an escape pod. His secret service men take after him in parachutes, but alas, there’s a mole inside the operation who’s really trying to kill the President and only he survives the crash. Oskari soon discovers Moore and is the only hope of leading him to safety as the elements and some bad guys do everything they can to take down the leader of the free world.
It’s all a very silly story which is usually totally fine by me. Director and co-writer Helander is a zany kind of guy whose first feature, Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale, has been hailed by many as way, way out there, man. I kept believing that this film was a tongue-in-cheek homage to any number of Schwazenegger, Stallone, or Fred Ward blockbusters from the ’80s that were action-heavy and light on story. And it is. But at its core, the film is really for 10-16 year old boys who are stuck inside their house over summer vacation watching TV. I was one of those boys once, and had I found this film on pay TV back in the day, I would have watched it at least 20 times. I may have even bought the VHS.
As it is now, I’m a grown-up (sort of), and Big Game doesn’t resonate. Its earnest silliness almost works, but the awful CGI and Jackson’s scenery chewing never jell. Had I been mentally prepared for a fun kids movie, I may have actually enjoyed Big Game, but outside that context, its weaknesses are too many.