Thursday, August 04, 2022

The Most Dangerous Game—Again, but More Traditional

Richard Connell was a highly successful writer during his lifetime, but he looks like a one-hit wonder today, because his only work still widely read is his famous man-hunting-man short story. It has been modernized, riffed-on, and ripped-off dozens of times by genre and exploitation filmmakers. For that reason, screenwriter-director Justin Lee earns some points for staying relatively faithful to Connell’s story for a new, period adaptation of The Most Dangerous Game, which opens tomorrow in theaters.

Big-game hunter Marcus Rainsford has dragged his son Sanger along on his latest hunt, as an ill-conceived attempt to treat his PTSD stemming from the younger man’s service as a WWII sniper. Unfortunately, their steamer crashes on the reef off Baron von Wolf’s private island reserve, with the help of one of his mines.

Initially, the Baron is thrilled to host an esteemed hunter like Rainsford’s father, but when he refuses to participate in von Wolf’s literal man-hunt, the mad man kills him in front of his son’s eyes. Then Rainsford fils is forced to become the prey, along with a pair of brother-sister captives. For Rainsford, von Wolf is especially repellent, because he is a senior German military, who disappeared after the war.

Although Connell’s original story was set in the 1920s, the post-WWII era is still somewhat traditional, matching that of the second film adaptation, Robert Wise’s
A Game of Death. Despite the frequent revamps and reboots, the story still works better in a period setting, when transcontinental travel necessarily resulting in long periods without outside communication.

Unlike possibly every other film adaptation, Lee’s screenplay reverts to Connell’s original name for his protagonist: “Sanger.” Some changes have been made to the hunting action, but Sanger Rainsford’s method of escape in the story is instead used to explain the presence of a survivor, living guerilla-style in the jungle, so the film still feels consistent to its roots.

Unfortunately, Casper Van Dien is badly miscast as von Wolf. Moustache-twisting villainy simply is not his forte. Even Leslie Banks in the classic 1932 film was a bit too restrained and sedate. However, Judd Nelson brings some surprising flair as the senior Rainsford and Bruce Dern adds some enjoyably eccentric scenery-chewing as family friend Whitney Tyler. Kevin Porter looks appropriately menacing as von Wolf’s hulking mute servant Ivan, while Tom Berenger is all kinds of scruffy and just little bit nutty as the survivor, Benjamin Colt. So, yes, there is also some spot-on casting.

Lee’s low-budget often shows through, but a lot more thought went into
The Most Dangerous Game than his last film reviewed here, Apache Junction. There is also some decent set and design work (including a cool title logo). If you take a deep dive into the Connell story and the battalion of films it inspired, you will appreciate several of his choices. Despite all that, the miscasting of Van Dien is hard to get around. Mostly recommended for obsessive “Dangerous Gamers,” The Most Dangerous Game opens tomorrow (8/5) in Los Angeles, at the Laemmle Royal.