Monday, June 22, 2015

Into the Grizzly Maze: Hear Billy Bob Growl

Remember the Reagan commercial warning there might be a bear in the woods, so we should prepare for every contingency? Well, there really is a grizzly in this forest and he is super pissed off. Even Billy Bob Thornton might not be enough to stop him in David Hackl’s guilty pleasure Into the Grizzly Maze (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

Rowan the recently paroled ex-con had no intention of telling his sheriff’s deputy brother Beckett he was back in town, but an untimely brawl foiled that plan. The only reason he slunk home was to find his old friend, Johnny Cadillac. The Native American guide had not been seen since taking a dicey group of poachers into grizzly country. As Rowan heads off in search of the buddy who is probably pretty darned dead by now judging from the prologue, Beckett’s deaf zoologist wife Michelle also ventures out to monitor some of the bears she has tagged. Although she refuses to talk about the years she spent in a Ukrainian boarding school, Beckett fell for her hard, swearing off hunting to please her.

Soon the remaining pieces of a group of illegal loggers are found. Basically, they are just a couple of hands still attached to their chainsaws, but even Sheriff “Sully” has to admit this was no boating accident. Slightly concerned, Beckett rushes into the forest hoping to find his wife and brother. Kaley, the town doctor who happens to be Rowan’s ex, tags along, so they will have a fourth hand for bridge. Unfortunately, once they all awkwardly reunite, the bear cuts off their escape route, forcing them to traverse the treacherous Grizzly Maze. Meanwhile, understanding this is one highly motivated bear they are dealing with, Sully recruits the services of Douglass, a weird creepy guy hunter, who has a particular thing for bears.

So yes, the bear is definitely the smartest character in Grizzly Maze. Yet, despite the conspicuous CGI grizzly attacks, there is a primal effectiveness to the film. The colorful supporting cast certainly helps, particularly dudes like Scott Glenn and Billy Bob Thornton. As soon as we see them, we know what to expect from Sully and Douglass, respectively. To be fair, the latter is given a bit of backstory, but it basically boils down to: he hates bears.

As Beckett and Michelle, Thomas Jane and Piper Perabo look suitably outdoorsy, but James Marsden’s Rowan maybe not so much. It is also a shame Adam Beach is so quickly dispatched as poor Cadillac. Still, Bart the Bear is fully capable of carrying the film as the predator known as “Red Machine” in some listings.

To recap, Grizzly Maze has a big honking bear, much death and dismemberment, and Billy Bob Thornton. It’s rather fun in a meathead kind of way. Recommended for b-movie fans with modest expectations, Into the Grizzly Maze is already available on VOD and opens this Friday (6/26) in select theaters.