Fifteen minutes into a serious thriller about shooting down Air Force One and kidnapping the president, “Big Game” turns seriously silly.
But we’re in the hands of the writer/director of the Finnish “Santa Claus is a monster” movie, “Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale.” So it’s goofy by design.
The president, played by Samuel L. Jackson, survives the crash in an “escape pod.” The person who pops him out of the pod, lost in the wilds of Finland, wants to communicate via a paper cup and string “telephone.”
“From what planet are you from? Do you come in peace?”
Jackson fights back the desire, the need, to use his favorite expletives, which is both prudent and presidential. His savior is a Finnish boy just turning 13 (Onni Tommila), who insists that the Prez (whom he doesn’t recognize) call him Ranger. The in-over-his-head kid is on a solo bear hunt, a rite of passage among Finland’s Duck Dynasty crowd.
“Big Game” is a violent formula actioner stuffed into a PG-13 box. Writer/director Jalmari Helander pulls his punches and goes more goofy than gonzo in this survivalist shootout. The result is a movie that won’t please his fans or the kids he waters this down for.
Ranger is so rural that he has more knowledge of driving an offroad four-wheeler than who the U.S. president might be. But he speaks English, spoiling the most promising comic possibilities here: a language barrier.
It’s easy to envision a foulmouthed President Samuel L. trying to make himself understood and respected by a Finnish kid with a bow and arrow.
Instead, Ranger and President Moore set out to finish the boy’s Finnish vision quest and then rescue the POTUS.
“Tomorrow, I will be a man,” the boy insists.
The president makes little effort to get a sense of urgency into this boy, even after the people who shot down his plane show up and start shooting.
Meanwhile, Jim Broadbent is the wily old spy brought in to run the government’s efforts to track and bring back the president. Victor Garber is the vice president, Felicity Huffman the CIA chief, Ted Levine a general at a loss for cleaning up this mess.
Jackson’s best acting comes in every moment he plays a passive president in the hands of a wimpy hunter-boy who can’t even draw back his bow.
“Sometimes, you don’t have to be tough, just look tough,” he counsels the kid.
“The forest is a harsh judge,” Mini Mel Gibson hisses back. “It gives each of us what we deserve.”
The production values and high-caliber cast suggest “Big Game” had better intentions than results. Helander may have memorized “Die Hard” and “Air Force One” and “Olympus Has Fallen.” But his version of that formula, given the loopy twist of making a woodsman/kid the hero “with particular skills,” loses most everything in translation.
Rated PG-13 | Time: 1:26