SURVIVING THE GAME (1994)
Rating: 3 out of 4 /Buy the DVD Here
Tagline: Jack Mason knows he's going to die someday. But today he's not in the mood.
Directed by: Ernest Dickerson
Starring: Ice-T, Rutger Hauer, Charles S. Dutton, Gary Busey and F. Murray Abraham.
THE PLAN: Down on his luck bum Mason (Ice-T) gets "hired" to be a wilderness guide by a couple of wealthy hunters (Rutger Hauer, Charles S. Dutton); after flying to the dense wilderness of Washington state, he quickly finds out that he's the intended game. But he's not goin' out like no punk!
THE KILL: Some movies are plainly more watchable because of their casts; the story is so-so, and with a lesser group of actors, the thing would be a lazy exercise, but with just the right assemblage of faces, it works. That's absolutely the case with SURVIVING THE GAME, which presents us with a story we've been privy to many, many times before, but because it has been cast with such a splendidly eccentric group, the movie is a solid piece of entertainment.
Just two guys, happily sittin' in traffic...
Clearly inspired by Richard Connell's immortal short story "The Most Dangerous Game", SURVIVING THE GAME takes that basic premise and carries it out without too much diversion or creativity. The prey is a homeless man who suffered a tragedy that lost him his wife and child, as well as his job and dignity. Surprisingly well-played by Ice-T (this was still around the time he was thought of as a rapper, remember), Mason's just an everyman whose life has crumbled into nothingness; he holds his own life in little regard. His only two friends are an old man and a dog and, in almost comical fashion, both die practically on the same day. Prompted to just end it all, Mason's about to throw himself in front of a truck when he's saved by a good Samaritan (Dutton), who tries to convince him he's got something to live for. Little does Mason know that this dude has other plans.
The set-up for SURVIVING THE GAME takes a little while; we spend more time than you'd think in the rocky part of the city where Mason and his fellow hobos congregate. But after he meets Burns (Hauer), the good Samaritan's partner in hunting expeditions, we're whisked off to the wild, where the film's allowed to delve right into what makes it so entertaining: its eccentric cast of supporting characters.
You really don't want to challenge Gary Busey to a staring contest...
Let's see: You've got Gary Busey, playing a psychiatrist (let that sink in for a minute), who has a really great speech describing the day in which he had to kill his beloved dog with his bare hands. There's John C. McGinley as an angry Texan recovering from the death of his child (ah, he doesn't know it, but he and Mason have something in common!). F. Murray Abraham plays a Wall Street raider who brings his son (William McNamara) out for his first hunt. You'd think he'd kind of give his son a heads up regarding the nature of these hunts, but nope; the kid is just as freaked out by the situation as Mason is when it becomes apparent what the plan is.
What's apparent here is that the entire cast is having a great time. The villains snarl effectively (Busey in particular goes way over the top and beyond) and Ice-T really sells Mason's panic, and ultimately, his determination to not only live, but to take these psychos down. Director Ernest Dickerson knows that he's got a solid cast here, so he really let's them do their thing.
Sure, there are tons of lapses in logic; the hunters insist on announcing themselves every few minutes with a call of "Mason!" (how many real hunters holler at their prey while they're hunting them?) and their cabin contains a ghastly room filled with the heads of their vanquished hobos. (Even though this is in the wilderness, anyone can still come and peek in this room's window if they had a mind to.) If the really movie falters anywhere, it's in the third act. The hunt for Mason loses steam all too quickly, and aside from Hauer's Burns, the villains who remain in the end are the least colorful. The final moments of the film are especially abrupt and unsatisfying, really spoiling what's otherwise been a very good time.
You really aren't expecting literature from SURVIVING THE GAME, however; taken for what it is - a B-movie with some gorgeous scenery, energetic action sequences and a talented array of character actors - it's a bulls-eye.
Theatrical trailer, early 90s style!
TOP DIALOGUE: Mason: "Never underestimate a man who's got nothin' to lose."
Rutger Hauer's Burns: "Life's true pleasures are so unpredictable."
TOP ACTION: Ice-T's fight to the death with Gary Busey is as crazy and nasty as you'd expect.
TOP DEATH: Mason sets a glorious trap for one of his hunters, which results in the destruction of a four-wheeler and the man's lower half. Yowch!
FEMALE EXPLOITATION: I kid you not: there are literally no women in this movie. If there are, not one of them has a single line of dialogue. Bummer.
DRINKING GAME: Drink every time you wonder why the fuck these guys insist on calling out Mason's name while they're supposed to be stealthily hunting him. You'll be hunting your own friends like a maniac before dawn.
TRIVIA: This was Ernest Dickerson's second big screen directorial effort, following JUICE.
The film had a budget of $7 million and it grossed $7 million.