Big Game’s stelliform cast isn’t the only proof Finnish director Jalmari Helander has gone Hollywood. The scene that best evinces his Tinseltown transition plays out in the film’s first few minutes, in which one of the supporting players from Helander’s international breakout movie, the wonderful Yuletide-horror gem Rare Exports, gets mercilessly exploded in a wanton hellstorm of missile-guided deforestation. The moment unfolds with a sense of impish glee. It’s not every day that you get the chance to off a minor character in a movie using an outrageously oversized payload of military ordnance.
Like Rare Exports, Big Game keeps its tongue firmly in cheek. This isn’t a serious movie. It’s parody, the kind of parody that prefers bull rushing to winking and nudging. Helander has no use for subtlety. One of the film’s running gags, a bit about the mechanics of pulling a bowstring, pays off brilliantly, and Helander writes the joke so broadly that anyone who’s conversational in action cinema will get it. Big Game goes over the top with its referential humor, but it also happens to be a lot of fun, so maybe nuance and delicacy don’t matter. After all, if you’re watching a movie in which Samuel L. Jackson plays the president of the U.S. of A. and Onni Tommila (another Rare Export export) plays the kid who rescues him from the wilds of Finland and the designs of a madman, you’re only interested in how often stuff blows up, how much stuff blows up, and how cool that stuff looks once Helander decrees that it must, indeed, be blown up.
That’s Big Game in a nutshell: Jackson, playing President William Alan Moore, and Tommila, playing young Oskari wander through hill and dale after Air Force One is shot down by the terrorist Hazar (Mehmet Kurtulu?). Hazar has no major designs for Moore other than to truss him up like a trophy kill. It’s actually Morris (Ray Stevenson), Moore’s head of security, who has a real beef, not to mention a heart condition to rival Tony Stark. So Oskari and Moore evade death, while back at the Pentagon a rogue’s gallery of A- and B-list actors—Jim Broadbent, Ted Levine, Felicity Huffman, Victor Garber—fuss about and hem and haw over how to get POTUS back home in one piece.
At a glance, Helander’s entire premise sounds like a punchline. Big Game plays out that first impression without batting an eye. Everything here is a jape, whether it’s the heavy-handed exposition that everyone from Stevenson to Broadbent uses to communicate essential ideas, to Tommila’s attempts at aping the bravado of guys like Schwarzenegger and Stallone, to Moore’s characterization as a man who knows how to play tough but never figured out the physics of genuinely being tough. Seeing Jackson, one of the most preeminent badasses in the movies today, sustain a panicked, helpless state throughout the majority of Big Game’s running time is a weird treat. We’re so accustomed to him being in charge. He’s the man with a plan. The film strips him of his mystique, though it does permit him to get in one solid “motherfucker” before all is said and done, because what good is Jackson without his favorite catchphrase?
Big Game feels like it’s aimed right at recent “presidency in peril” movies like White House Down and Olympus Has Fallen, brawny, dopey productions meant to recall the glory days of ’80s action iconography. Helander plays with those images somewhat, but it’s tempting to make a lot of hay out of his apparent fondness for Amblin movies. We’re not quite in Spielberg territory here—there’s as much of the Beard as there is of McTiernan and Petersen, maybe even a bit of Baird—but it’s hard to deny Big Game’s infectious, charming enthusiasm. If you’re going to drop a bomb, you might as well drop it with gusto.
Director: Jalmari Helander
Writers: Jalmari Helander, Petri Jokiranta
Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Onni Tommila, Ray Stevenson, Felicity Huffman, Victor Garber, Jim Broadbent, Ted Levine, Mehmet Kurtulu?
Release Date: June 26, 2015
Boston-based critic Andy Crump has been writing online about film since 2009, and has been scribbling for Paste Magazine since 2013. He also contributes to Screen Rant, Movie Mezzanine, and Badass Digest. You can follow him on Twitter. He is composed of roughly 65 percent Vermont craft brews.