Movie review: Big Game is a Hollywood adventure with unusual Finnish elements

Onni Tommila (left) as the 13-year-old who stumbles upon the American president (Samuel L. Jackson, right) in the Finnish forest and has to keep him safe. -- PHOTO: GOLDEN VILLAGE PICTURES
Onni Tommila (left) as the 13-year-old who stumbles upon the American president (Samuel L. Jackson, right) in the Finnish forest and has to keep him safe. -- PHOTO: GOLDEN VILLAGE PICTURES

Finnish elements manage to lift what would have been a mundane Hollywood action flick

Review Action-adventure

BIG GAME (PG13)

91 minutes/Opens tomorrow/3/5

The story: As a rite of passage, 13-year-old Oskari (Onni Tommila) has to venture into a Finnish forest and hunt down an animal on his own. What he chances upon is the president of the United States (Samuel L. Jackson), ejected to safety after Air Force One is shot down. With the villains on the hunt for their big game, it is up to Oskari to thwart their devious scheme and save the day.

There are actually two movies here.

One is a cinematic update of an almost quaint genre - boys' adventure, as exemplified in magazines such as Boy's Own Paper (1879-1967) that were geared towards entertainment and character-building.

In order to prove that he is no longer a child and make his father proud, Oskari has to track down a deer and claim it as a trophy - even if he is not quite ready.

The other movie is a more conventional Hollywood-type action thriller with stock villains out to hunt down a target - the American president.

When the two movies collide, the result is a passably entertaining flick, helmed by Finnish writer-director Jalmari Helander (Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale, 2010).

It helps that the two worlds are so different. If Oskari had been an American kid, the movie would have been far less intriguing. Tommila, who had also acted in Helander's Rare Exports, is likeably plucky without a shred of self-aware cutesiness.

Jackson (Pulp Fiction, 1994) is cast against type as a lame duck president, not just politically, but also physically - he has to depend on Oskari for survival. Still, Helander could not resist giving Jackson a badass moment late in the film.

Big Game begins like an arthouse film with characters speaking in Finnish, with ideas of masculinity a constant theme.

The intrusion of the Hollywood action flick is when the film gets dumbed down.

Oskari's conflicted attitude towards masculinity is met with pat advice such as: "You don't have to be tough, you just have to look tough."

At the same time, the boy's fantasy adventure aspect of the story takes off, complete with aerial stunts and underwater exploits and much hand-wringing from hapless Pentagon officials.

Without the unusual Finnish elements, this would have been a far more mundane Game.

bchan@sph.com.sg