Big Game Jalmari Helander
Published Jul 09, 2015Like Wes Anderson is strongly representative of the "allergic to gluten" crowd, Jalmari Helander is a bastion for the pizza pocket demographic. Though he's only directed two feature films, they both have a very specific tone that blends nostalgic romanticism with a distinct indulgence, and even pride, in immaturity. Like Rare Exports, which was far more interesting in concept than execution, Big Game plays out like a children's movie made for adults with a love of bad '80s action and adventure. It wants to be "cool" — in every outdated sense of the word — and probably is, for a very specific breed of blogging man-children, but it's mostly just embarrassing and incompetent.
The premise finds POTUS William Alan Moore (Samuel L. Jackson) being hijacked while en route in Air Force One over Finland and winding up alone in the Nordic wilderness with Oskari (Onni Tommila), a 13-year-old boy sent out by his elders to learn some basic survival skills. Things play out with Oskari finding creative ways to protect the president from a legion of assassins while Pentagon officials sit around in a cheap set doling out exposition that does absolutely nothing to service an already derivative plot.
Since the story is deliberately silly — a pre-teen fantasy made real — the assumption is that the target audience is young boys, but there are a few problems with this. Big Game is quite violent. It's not gory, but there are dead bodies floating around the periphery and excess gunfire. And while the presentation of pseudo-realistic violence to children is morally debatable, the cheesy one-liners and old school aesthetic (cheap green screen chase sequences and a corny comic tendency to construct wildly over-the-top life threatening situations) are very much reminiscent of the films of yesteryear. Since youth audiences aren't typically gravitating to old Sylvester Stallone movies, the style and dynamic seems very much like a filmmaker indulgence, the product of a director that isn't interested in considering their viewers or contemplating how they want their project to present itself.
Again, the act of making a movie simply to fulfill some idealized childhood fantasy isn't necessarily a bad thing; it's transparent and a little sad. But the bigger issue with Big Game is that it's actively bad. The dialogue is consistently ham-fisted, and the action is quite amateurish. Worse is that the pacing is dreadful. There's virtually no propulsion and no consideration of how the scenes flow into each other, making it difficult even to pay attention.
If anything, this throwaway bit of campy fluff is indicative that the filmmaker is unwilling or unable to grow. Rare Exports had the same problems, but at least it coasted by on its inherent idiosyncrasy and tendency to take bizarre turns; Big Game is just boring and unoriginal. And the blasé themes about overcoming obstacles do little to ameliorate this.