Surviving the Game(1994) Movie Review

Surviving the Game came traipsing in a year after Jean-Claude Van Damme’s much more popular Hard Target. Both films featured down-on-their-luck men being used as human prey for rich. bloodthirsty psycho’s desperate for the thrill of the kill. Ice-T is a good actor, but not in this film he ain’t. Though he still out-performs JCVD as the man on the lam.

T plays Jack Mason, a Seattle hobo plucked from the streets and given a job in the wilderness. Without asking any serious questions or growing suspicious he sheepishly accepts the offer. Upon arriving at a remote forest cabin (actually Lake Wenatchee Airport, if you don’t mind me spoiling the magic) he meets a bunch of wealthy weirdos and is well fed and watered. When he wakes the next morning Mason discovers that his job is to run as fast as he can back to civilization.

Director Earnest Dickerson has no control over his cast and allows them to overact to ludicrous degrees. F. Murray Abraham, Oscar or no Oscar, has no idea what he’s doing. Gary Busey turns up, goes mental, and then exits (a stupid mistake as he’s the most interesting character). John C. McGinley goes over the edge with the minimal of back-story, which only just starts getting interesting before he too exits. It’s like they actually wanted to strip the film of any engaging substance.

They try to inject some kind of subtext with the character names. Mason is the everyday working man. He is hunted by men called Hawkins, Griffin, Mr. Wolf and Wolf Jnr. He is employed by men called Cole and Burns, and taken to a place called Hell’s Canyon. If writer Eric Bernt was trying to be clever it’s lost in the bumbling incompetence that cripples the action scenes.

The whole film is shot like a cheap TV movie, which is twice a let-down as Dickerson himself is a former cinematographer who really ought to know better. The editing is a joke (dead characters mysteriously reappear in some shots as well as the fact that both day AND night seem to last all of two minutes out in the wilderness). The dialogue is terrible, and frequently badly ADR-ed as a quick fix to the consistently poor narrative. A sense of place and location is apparently irrelevant…

What does STG have in its favor? Um…nice music and pleasant scenery. In a film with a wide cast of character actors playing psychos in a story that has been the inspiration for many other action movies that’s a pretty disappointing couplet when you’re trying hard to recommend it. Stewart Copeland’s score IS very good though, and I’m surprised it’s not on CD. And the lovely hills and mountains of the Pacific-Northwest will no doubt inspire you to go out for a summertime hike.

Surviving the Game could have been great, but is merely an incredibly dumb, badly-directed pot-boiler, and a massive guilty pleasure.

Review by CuriosityKilledShawn


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