We gave it a C-
Early on in Surviving the Game, there’s an amusing sequence in which Mason (Ice-T), a homeless derelict with nothing much to live for, has dinner with six men who’ve hired him to assist in their ritual wildlife hunt the following morning. Seated in a log cabin, their leader (Rutger Hauer) explains with great majesty that ”each man out here will experience the animal within himself.” What Mason doesn’t realize is he’s the prey. Surviving the Game is the latest variation on ”The Most Dangerous Game,” the famous short story (actually, a rather glib piece of misanthropy by Richard Connell about men hunting other men that wowed us all in the ninth grade).
The satirical hook here is that the hunt is presented as a deranged version of a Robert Bly mystical-macho powwow, with the hunters portrayed by a veritable A-list of gloating urban-male creeps. They include Hauer, camouflaging his suave leer behind a white goatee and pirate’s bandanna; Murray Abraham, whose pockmarks alone signify voluminous inner rot; Charles S. Dutton, using his jovial African-American-role-model persona to chillingly ironic effect; and Gary Busey, sporting a gonzo grin as a shrink whose father forced him to wrestle a bulldog when he was a kid. (All that’s missing is the glassy-eyed maestro himself, Christopher Walken).
Surviving the Game has enough villains for any one movie, and the images of the Northwest woodlands have a sunny, daybreak crispness, with the camera tracking everyone like a jackrabbit-no surprise, considering that the director, Ernest Dickerson (Juice), made his name as Spike Lee’s cinematographer. Unfortunately, Dickerson doesn’t do much to revitalize the apocalyptic cliches of the heavy-duty-action genre. As the hunt progresses, Mason sets fire to the cabin, jumps off a cliff, and, mostly, shoots bullets at his attackers from great distances. Essentially, the movie is Cliffhanger with one third the firepower. Ice-T, looking like a depressed lion in his thick Rasta braids, remains a charismatic camera subject, though he’s too much the snaggletoothed urban runt to make a convincing action dynamo. Still, for a few moments there, the movie gives Robert Bly just what he deserves.