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Schlock & Awe: SURVIVING THE GAME

The Hunger Games is definitely not the first work of fiction to suppose what would happen if people had to hunt and kill each other. In fact, staying with the “game” theme, a very famous short story called The Most Dangerous Game was published in 1924 and depicted a shipwrecked man being hunted for sport by an aristocrat. This story has been adapted into films a number of times over the years and none more ridiculously than Ernest R. Dickerson’s 1994 film, Surviving the Game. (It’s always a game, though.) This film is an exercise in scenery chewing and features some of the hammiest actors in the world performing some of the silliest action scenes you’ll ever see.

It’s also thoroughly entertaining and more than once you’ll likely laugh out loud.

What is it about people being hunted for sport that just makes everybody all excited to watch it? Is it just because it’s so ghastly? Is it something to do with the adrenaline? You know how much your heart races during a super intense game of Hide-and-Seek, right? Well, imagine if the seeker also had a weapon and ATVs and stuff and would slaughter you if you stood still long enough… that’d be like a notch higher on the scared-as-sh*t scale, right? At any rate, this movie is just another in a long line of this premise. This Game-titled premise.

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The film stars Ice-T (well before he was on Law & Order: SVU) as Mason, a homeless man with a sad and dark secret. One day, he’s about to commit suicide when a soup kitchen worker (Charles S. Dutton) stops him and refers him to a businessman named Burns (Rutger Hauer) whom he says can get Mason a job. The job in question turns out to be that of a hunting guide and, despite Mason’s complete lack of knowledge about both hunting and guiding, the money proves too good to pass up.  The trip is to be held in the Pacific Northwest in an area that can only be reached via private plane. Once there, Burns introduces Mason to the rest of the hunting party: Dutton, John C. McGinley, F. Murray Abraham and his son William McNamara, and the nutjob extraordinaire Gary Busey.

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They have an extravagant if terse dinner where the hunters all discuss how much they love killing things and we find out that Mason’s wife and daughter died in a fire. Busey even delivers a horrifying monologue in which he describes being forced by his father to kill his beloved dog after training it for weeks and months. It made him a man. (That’s also exactly what happened with Nazi stormtroopers being trained, by the way; they each got a little doggie to take care of while they became an efficient killing machine and their final assignment was to kill the dog. Nazis; you know I hate ‘em.)

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The next morning, Mason is awakened by the men pointing a gun in his face. Here’s the thing, you guys: they aren’t actually there to hunt animals… they’re there to hunt MASON. They send him off into the forest while they eat breakfast, to give him a sporting chance, then the crazy people rush out after him on ATVs with all manner of weaponry. Mason must fight for his life and kill the hunters lest he be killed.

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This is one of the cheesiest movies I’ve ever seen and it’s completely delightful. Each of the film’s villains tears the paint off of the walls with the power of their acting. It’s like they’re trying to out-badguy each other. This movie was made before Busey went completely off the deep end, but he’s still all toothy intensity. The aforementioned monologue about how his dad made him kill his pet dog as a child is equal parts chilling and hilarious as the camera gets so close you can practically see fluoride. Rutger Hauer is his usual growly sinister self but is funny at how dark he gets. Won’t give anything away, but one of the bad guys gets mortally wounded and Hauer’s character puts him out of his misery in a fairly brutal way. McGinley is all Texan bravado and gets offended by everything.

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Surprisingly, the funniest of the baddies are Abraham and McNamara who do not look like father and son at all, but both have the same shrill scream when angry or afraid. McNamara shrieking, “Daaaad! Daaaaad!” will stay with you for weeks. At the center of it all is Ice-T, who is forced to talk to himself a lot and has ridiculous hair. There is no reason that a homeless, alcoholic chain-smoker should be able to outlast five trained killers with high-powered rifles, but for some reason he does. I’m sorry, but Cop Killer or no, Ice-T is just not my idea of a tough guy.

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Surviving the Game is gut-bustingly funny and I’d say about 85% not meant to be. Get your own hunting party together and have a great time with this one.

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