Oskari (Onni Tommila) is a 13-year-old boy tasked with going on an overnight hunting mission alone in the Finnish wilderness, part of a long-standing ritual to prove himself as a man to his community. Meanwhile, the President of the United States (Samuel L. Jackson) is on his way to a Summit in Finland when terrorists shoot down Air Force One over the very same woods. As Oskari becomes caught in the middle of this, he must put all of his survival skills to the test to evade the terrorists and return the President to safety.
With two features under his belt now, director Jalmari Helander has clearly been attempting to bring back the kind of adventure films for kids that he would have grown up with in the 1980s – the Amblin-esque type Hollywood production that you don’t really see much anymore. Since the majority of films aimed at younger audiences these days have become grossly sugarcoated, it’s refreshing to see the Finnish director throw his young characters into dangerous situations so that they can defiantly work their way out of them.
But while hearing the premise of Big Game alone inspires giddy delight, Helander faces the same problem he did with his first film, the odd killer-Santa fable Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale. He doesn’t nearly explore his ideas enough to make for a satisfying story. Like Rare Exports before, Big Game barely clears 80 minutes before the credits start rolling and the overall sentiment is, “That’s it?” Not much really transpires in this action-adventure; once the plane goes down and the two protagonists team up, there’s only two brief (albeit creative) action sequences with a little bit of basic character development sandwiched in before it abruptly ends. When it arrived at the conclusion, I swear I thought there was still going to be at least 20 minutes of movie left.
Casting Sam Jackson as the President is an inspired move but one that unfortunately never really pays off. Jackson plays him more or less as a bumbling idiot, which is mildly amusing at first, but then never progresses beyond that, leaving nothing but a vacant shell of a character. Then there’s the quartet of great actors – Victor Garber, Felicity Huffman, Jim Broadbent and Ted Levine – who are all wasted as they sit around in a cheap-looking Pentagon war room trying to figure out how to bring the President home, resulting in a twist that’s pretty apparent early on.
Out of everyone, the young Tommila (who was also the hero of Rare Exports) probably fares the best, but he’s in a film that never fully lets him break out.