Jalmari Helander’s ‘Lapland Spielberg’ aspirations

Big Game (12A)

Whatever battles that may have been won in the war against racism by the appointment of a black president to the White House are well and truly guillotined by Samuel L. Jackson’s Uncle Tom-like depiction of the US president in this well-meaning (if ridiculous) terrorism-stroke-coming-of-age yarn from writer/director Jalmari Helander.

Maybe I’m taking it too seriously because it’s basically intended as a bit of a laugh, but I’m wondering if we should be joking about mad terrorists in the aftermath of 9/11. There are some fanatics out there who might get ideas from escapist frolics like this.

The main villain, Morris (Ray Stevenson), looks remarkably like the 1950s cowboy star Rory Calhoun – and in a way, this is a 1950s cowboy movie… without the cowboys.

Stevenson is Jackson’s chief secret service aide. In fact, he once stopped a bullet for him, like the Clint Eastwood of In the Line of Fire.  But here he’s a double agent. In fact, he’s plotting with a group of terrorists to capture and then assassinate the president.

When Jackson gets ejected from Air Force One in a capsule he ends up in a forest in Finland.   He’s discovered by a 13-year-old boy, Oskari (Onni Tommila). Oskari is sulking as a result of not being brought on a deer-stalking expedition with his father. “What planet are you from?” he asks Jackson as he emerges from the capsule. Jackson might have answered “Planet Hollywood”. Suddenly we feel we’re back in E.T. territory.

There follows a bonding session between the pair. Also lots of explosions, fifth-rate dialogue, and a memorable sequence where they travel through the forest on a refrigerator suspended from a helicopter. (Don’t try this at home.)


We know that if Oskari can’t shoot deer, he might at least bag a few terrorists. Oh, and rescue the most important man on the planet into the bargain. It wouldn’t be a bad day’s work.

Big Game is nonsense but enjoyable nonsense. Pulp fiction of the lowest grade, its characters are comic book conceits. When they hit one another, you almost expect words like KERPOW! and SPLAT! to appear on the screen like in those adventure books we read as children.

I couldn’t really figure out the point of it all. If we had Harrison Ford as the president, there might have been at least some semblance of credibility. Jackson seems more than happy to ham it up as a squeamish idiot who likes junk food and panics in a crisis.  This doesn’t sit too well with the dignified performance of Oskari, trying his little heart out to please his papa –  or indeed with the lush Finnish landscape, or the orchestral music on the soundtrack.

If all this isn’t bad enough, we also have the prospect of a group of White House officials viewing the latest developments on satellite without seeming too bothered about doing anything about it. It’s a bit like the Royle Family watching a volcano on CNN. Then there’s Jim Broadbent as a CIA intelligence expert coming out of retirement to lend a hand. (We know he’s an intelligence expert because, when we first see him, he’s in a cuddly jumper munching on a sandwich.)

It’s Tommila’s film. He’s a charmer, but Jackson frequently threatens to scupper that charm with his frantic posturing and face-pulling. Helander should either have played it all straight or gone for broke on the trash front. In the end we’re presented with two films in one, neither of which totally hit the target for that reason.

It’s a mess, but still very enjoyable.

** Fair