Since we’ll never get a proper Die Hard sequel, fans (like myself) must seek the adrenaline rush of John McTiernan’s action masterpiece elsewhere. Good news, folks. You’ll find it in Jalmari Helander’s Finnish backwoods thriller Big Game.
The concept behind Big Game would have been greenlit in the 1980s and early ‘90s, when Renny Harlin and Jan De Bont were collaborating on breathtaking crowd-pleasers whose scripts you could fit on a cocktail napkin. Here’s the skinny: Oskari (Onni Tommila) is a 13-year-old Finnish boy who, as part of a tribal ritual, must spend the night alone in a forest to prove his maturation process. Only, he won’t be alone for long. In the skies above Finland, Air Force One is under attack, and U.S. President Alan Moore (Samuel L. Jackson) ends up in a pod that’s dropped to avoid capture. Now, Oskari must help President Moore avoid a slew of evildoers who’d like to hold the leader of the free world hostage… and possibly execute him before a ransom is collected.
There’s a line at the start of Big Game that so perfectly sums up my reaction to the movie’s experience, I had to jot it down. The President’s top secret service agent, Morris (played by Ray Stevenson), checks on him for a morning debriefing. The Prez, who has health issues, sneaks a bite of a tasty dessert, and appeals to Morris not to rat him out to the First Lady. “Life is too damn short not to have a cookie when you want,” Morris tells his boss.
That’s what Big Game is, a cinematic “cookie” with absolutely no nutritional value, but one you shouldn’t feel guilty about consuming. Sam Jackson stops short of full-blown Snakes on a Plane camp when playing a politician caught in a difficult situation. Jackson also doesn’t step in to the badass hero role… because Moore isn’t that persona, and choosing to play him that way would have been false. This also allows the inventive Oskari to keep the duo ahead of their predators in ways that would make John McClane smile.
Even better than the pairing of Jackson with young Tommila is the inspired casting of character-actor heavyweights in the typical supporting roles. Felicity Huffman holds down her part as the Director of the CIA, tracking the president’s moves as he evades capture. Victor Garber spits out dry one-liners as Moore’s VP. And Jim Broadbent (!!) steals the show as Herbert, a former CIA operative who is brought in to advise the rescue mission – or, as he announces it, to “find the president, kill the sons of bitches who are after him, and bring him home.”
Big Game is slick action-pop that’s ludicrous, but never dumb. The screenplay has a dark, wicked sense of humor that compliments the impressive action sequences. Like most action movies produced in the shadows of the Big Eighties, Big Game telegraphs its twists. But don’t those cookies taste great on a hot summer night at the multiplex?