Ernest Dickerson, formerly Spike Lee's cinematographer, continues to show promise in the director's seat with this solidly made, well-acted survival thriller that is unfortunately limited by its overworked premise.
Mason (Ice-T) has been living on the streets of Seattle since the slum tenement he once managed burned down in a fire that killed his wife and child. Now his only two friends are a mangy dog and a loony old drunk named Hank (Jeff Corey). When the dog is hit and killed by a cab and Hank dies in
his sleep, Mason is ready to die as well. Standing in front of a fast-moving tractor trailer, he's pulled away at the last second by Cole (Charles S. Dutton), who, with his partner Burns (Rutger Hauer), offers Mason the unlikely job of wilderness hunting guide. Mason, intrigued, accepts.
In the wilds of the Pacific Northwest, he meets the hunters. Weekend thrill-seeker Wolfe (F. Murray Abraham), a hard-driving stockbroker, has brought along his son (William McNamara), intending to initiate him into manhood. CIA psychiatrist Hawkins (Gary Busey) is much the worse for his own
initiation: his father pitted him against a killer pit bull in a fight-to-the-death, leaving him hopelessly warped. Griffin (John C. McGinley) got pushed over the edge when a street person abducted and murdered his young daughter. It turns out that the hunters have each paid $50,000 to stalk and
kill Mason. With a mixture of luck and street smarts, Mason manages to elude, manipulate and kill off the hunters one by one. The sole survivor, Burns, is about to flee back to the city when Mason kills him using Burns' own cigarettes and a bit of gun safety advice given to him by Hank.
This film is about the 10,000th remake of THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME, and is consequently predictable from start to finish. Even so, it's sturdier than most of the remakes, including John Woo's 1993 American debut HARD TARGET. Ice-T's Mason is persuasive as an average guy, and the script, by Eric
Bernt, works hard to keep his derring-do plausible within the limitations of Mason's character. Instead of turning into Rambo, Mason plays on his pursuers' weaknesses to lure them into deadly traps. The script is inventive, even if the outcome is preordained.
Dickerson's work is surprisingly sure-handed, given that this is only his second feature. The support is a solid mix of genre veterans--Hauer, McGinley, Busey, and McNamara (the latter two could also be seen together in 1994 in Dennis Hopper's CHASERS)--and more offbeat choices, like Dutton, who
plays radically against his nice-guy image in the short-lived TV series "Roc." Dutton's excellent, but his appearance here smells of compromise: without him, Ice-T would have played a lone black man pursued by whites, and a racially charged runaway-slave narrative--something along the lines of
SWEET SWEETBACK'S BAADASSSSS SONG--might have emerged. Nevertheless, taken on its own terms, SURVIVING THE GAME is modest, well-crafted adventure entertainment. (Graphic violence, profanity.)
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- Released: 1994
- Rating: R
- Review: Ernest Dickerson, formerly Spike Lee's cinematographer, continues to show promise in the director's seat with this solidly made, well-acted survival thriller that is unfortunately limited by its overworked premise. Mason (Ice-T) has been living on the s… (more)