In “Big Game,” an adolescent Finnish boy has to play action hero when the US president (Samuel L. Jackson) is nefariously waylaid en route to Helsinki. Finally, a movie for everyone who got a charge out of the slick presidential jeopardy of “White House Down” and “Olympus Has Fallen,” but lamented that they weren’t really suitable for family viewing. At least, that feels like the gleefully cracked approach being taken by Finnish writer-director Jalmari Helander, whose 2010 debut, “Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale,” dared to recast Santa as a demonic boogeyman. Good to see Helander has really dialed down the nuttiness for his follow-up.
Onni Tommila (“Rare Exports”) plays young Oskari, a fretful looking kid who’s eager to carry on the rugged hunting legacy of his dad (Jorma Tommila) and their kin, but who can’t even shoot an arrow. How will he ever get through his big rite of passage, stalking game all on his own?
Meanwhile, on board Air Force One, Jackson’s Obama-casual William Moore is facing a different sort of crisis. Missile-toting terrorists have successfully targeted the plane, and it seems his security detail isn’t entirely to be trusted, either. We’ll assume it’s not some intentional tipoff that Ray Stevenson’s Secret Service agent has a shakily suppressed British accent — and a thumb ring! — but they sure do scream that something is fishy. By the time Moore’s escape pod crash lands in the wilderness, it’s clear that he’s on his own, save for the serendipitous aid he’ll get from Oskari. (Like grown-ups in a young adult novel, the folks in the situation room back in D.C. can’t or don’t help much, despite being a surprisingly stocked group: Jim Broadbent, Felicity Huffman, Victor Garber, and Ted Levine.)
Helander shoots for an unlikely buddies dynamic that’s agreeable enough but stilted, with scruffy Oskari unimpressed by this unfamiliar, physically soft world leader, and Moore patiently indulging the boy as his ticket back to civilization and safety. Tommila’s comfort level with English can be spotty, and he and Jackson are called on to bond over clunkers like a rambling anecdote about a presidential bathroom mishap. The terrorism theme is also handled pretty simplistically. One copout line informs us that Middle Eastern baddie Hazar (Mehmet Kurtulus) isn’t religious or political, just psychotic — which presumably explains his jodhpurs.
But, oh, the action. Tommila and Jackson have a couple of escape sequences that are exhilaratingly choreographed, never mind that one employs a meat freezer as its key prop. Kids should dig these bits. After all, off-kilter as Helander’s sensibility continues to be, he’s got a passion for popcorn-movie energy that can be contagious — especially when he’s not trashing Santa.
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Tom Russo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.