Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Big Game: Snakes on Air Force One

How we depict the President of the United States in film and television says a lot about how we view the office. In Air Force One, Harrison Ford kicked a terrorist off his plane. In 24, David Palmer had one of his cabinet secretaries water-boarded without a second thought. Sadly, when Samuel L. Jackson assumed the role of Commander-in-Chief, he spends most of the time complaining he is cold and his feet hurt. Yet bad guys are still out to get him in Jalmari Helander’s Big Game (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

William Alan Moore is a particularly lame duck chief executive, in route to a G8 pre-summit pre-conference, as part of his presidency’s sad endgame, but his flight will get suspiciously bumpy thanks to an inside saboteur. We can tell by looking at him, Morris the senior Secret Service agent is obviously a traitor. He once took a bullet for this POTUS, but Morris has come to wonder why, especially with his mandatory retirement looming.

Still, it seems like a drastic step for Morris to cast his lot in with Hazar, a wealthy Mid East psychopath, who wants to hunt down the President, so he can stuff and mount him as his trophy. Unfortunately, when Moore is forced to eject from Air Force One, his only ally on the ground will be Oskari, an under-sized Finnish pre-teen trying to prove his mettle in a rite-of-passage survival excursion. He is young and annoying, but he is still more resourceful than Moore. Meanwhile, the White House crisis room is buzzing, but it is not clear all the senior staffers are on the same page.

Big Game is billed as a throwback action thriller, but it never throws-down hard enough. There are way too many cutesy scenes of the kid trying communicate with Moore through a couple of tin cans and a string and not nearly enough old school beatdowns. In fact, several of the signature action sequences are rather gimmicky looking.

Most disappointingly, Helander never lets Jackson cut loose. We want to see him get righteous on the villains, but instead he just whines and projects uncertainty. Man, if ever there is a time to cowboy up, this is it. Frankly, he is rather put to shame by all the colorful character actors underutilized in the DC scenes, particularly the grizzled Ted Levine, snarling along as best he can as General Underwood.

As was true of his prior film, Rare Exports, Helander again starts with a promising high concept, but his execution lacks edge. In this case, we are promised plenty of Die Hard-esque action, getting sentimental Odd Couple shtick in its place. Still, the remote Nordic scenery is quite impressive. Despite having plenty of elements in place, it just never clicks. For those looking for some PG-13 action that feels even younger, imperfect though it might be, Big Game opens this Friday (6/26) in select theaters.