Absurdly outlandish but ridiculously enjoyable, “Big Game” is an old-school boys’ adventure story, based on a YA novel by Dan Smith, in which a thirteen-year old Finnish boy out in the wild for a traditional test of manhood saves the President of the United States, who’s plummeted from the sky in an escape capsule after his plane has been sabotaged by his enemies. Adding to the implausibility of it all is the fact that POTUS is played by Samuel L. Jackson—not in full bombast mode, but never very far from it, either.
After a goofy meeting, in which young Oskari (Onni Tommila, happily not the cute-as-a-button tyke one might have expected) initially mistakes President Moore for a visitor from outer space, the boy becomes his reluctant rescuer, leading him to the spot where his father is scheduled to pick him up after a detour to the forest where he hopes to bag the deer required to complete his mission. Unfortunately, Moore’s villainous Secret Service agent Morris (Ray Stevenson), who’s supposed to protect him but actually engineered the plane takeover, swoops down after them, joined on the ground by terrorist Hazar (Mehmet Kurtulus)—a sneering sort who plans to mount the President as his ultimate trophy.
Meanwhile, back in the Situation Room in Washington, the Vice-President (Victor Garber), Joint Chiefs Chairman (Ted Levine), CIA Director (Felicity Huffman) and NSA chief (Jim Broadbent) hustle to get resources in place to save Moore. But as we will learn, there’s more going on among them than initially meets the eye.
This is all ludicrous stuff, of course, though on reflection not much more so than what audiences happily swallowed in pictures like “Air Force One,” “Olympus Has Fallen” and “White House Down,” to name but three. And happily a lot of it is played with tongue firmly in cheek, a cynical postscript apart. The likably determined Tommila and Jackson, who gives a performance that’s certainly restrained by his standards (though in his case that’s obviously a relative term), develop a nice rapport by the close of the picture’s trim ninety minutes, and though Stevenson and Kurtulus provide little but cardboard nastiness, that pretty much goes with the territory. On the home front Garber is his customary shifty self and Levine typically gruff, while Huffman is bland. By far the most interesting person in the Situation Room is Broadbent, who might not be at all right for the part of the security chief but gives it some abrasive flair.
From a technical perspective, “Big Game” is surprisingly impressive. The wilderness locations, captured in glowing widescreen images by cinematographer Mika Orasmaa, give it unexpected scope, and though the Situation Room set looks a bit underwhelming, the optical effects involving Air Force One are pretty convincing, and Iikka Hesse’s editing is crisp. Special mention should be made of the music score by Juri and Miska Seppa, which sounds as though it might have been lifted from one composed by John Williams for a Steven Spielberg movie. It gives the action a rousing feel even when things are at their most incredible—and they certainly become so toward the picture’s close.
This is the sort of movie that would have been a huge treat as Saturday-afternoon fodder for tweens, particularly boys, when single-screen theatres still catered to such an audience. Now, at least in this country, it will probably be relegated to the small screen. Even in such a format, however, it’s engaging enough that adolescent guys might well be willing to set aside their video games to watch it, and for their dads it should be a nostalgia trip worth enjoying with them.