Survive the Game is the most amateurish movie I have ever seen and reviewed for this site. You know those iPhone commercials where high school kids are shooting action movies on their phones? Those clips are infinitely more professional and polished than any component of this movie. I am not being hyperbolic. I am trying to convey that I think this movie was literally shot by high school kids over a couple weeks of summer vacation on their phones. With none of the charm and joy that implies.
It is the only way to make any sense of what I just saw on my screen. It started bad. I mean, really bad. And then it got worse. And stupider. And finally you realize that all the actors are making up everything as they go, there is no script whatsoever, no rationale behind anything occurring on screen. There was no vision, no ambition the movie fell short of. There are no creative shots, no glimpses of some simmering might have been. It wouldn’t even be functional as a tax write off, because you can’t lose money if you don’t spend any.
I need to walk you through this movie, with wee vignettes of the madness. I need you to grasp the abyss I just stared into.
We begin with Bruce Willis and a hair model (Swen Temmel) in a car arguing entirely in cliches over whether they should call for back up. Seriously, this guy’s defining feature is that he just stepped out of a Pantene Pro-V commercial. He … should have stayed there. It was more a meaningful role.
They have a shootout that involves Pantene shooting once, and then ducking behind cover as if to reload while a gunfight of hundreds of shots then continues among everyone else. It’s unclear if he’s a coward, his gun jammed, he is completely incapable of reloading faster than a 17th century musket man, of if they just screwed up in editing so that the scene is incoherent. I only harp on it, because it’s a microcosm of the entire movie in which absolutely nothing makes sense at the basic level of understanding what is supposed to be happening on screen.
For instance, I didn’t realize that we were supposed to think Willis’ character died in the opening scene until Pantene told us 30 minutes later. I literally was wondering why he hadn’t gotten out of the car to help. But then surprise! Willis has been captured and is still alive. But maybe dying. Definitely being tortured. But offscreen, because there was no budget or creativity for anything so mundane as practical effects. The audience hasn’t been this confused about Willis being dead or alive since The Sixth Sense.
Or as a further example, Pantene does not have a gun in the very next scene, and proceeds to have a lengthy fist fight with a dude (Zack Ward), who looks like Guy Fieri hit a meth rock bottom, and a dime-store Harley Quinn clone (Kate Katzman) complete with a heart tattoo on her cheek. As an aside, they both have tons of tattoos and they all look like they were drawn on with black Sharpies. Where does his gun go? Nobody knows. But the criminals lost theirs too somewhere along the way, so everything works out for them to have the worst choreographed fight since the unaired leaked pilot of Buffy. That makes it the best fight scene of this entire movie.
Disappearing guns are a recurrent theme of the movie. At one point a bad guy drops his gun during a car chase and several minutes are dedicated to close-ups of his hand flailing around under the seat for it. At another point, several bad guys are getting ready to storm in when the boss asks where yet another dude’s gun is. “Oh, I didn’t bring one,” he says. Presumably, it was ruining the lines of his outfit? You had literally one job, Gun Man #4. One job. Someone decided to put this on screen.
It’s okay though, because despite being an action movie filled with people with guns, there are basically no more shots fired. Every single fight scene involves someone getting hit from behind and dropping their gun. Every. Single. One. I think they literally ran out of blanks in their budget in the opening scene and had to improvise the rest of it. Either that or in this cinematic universe, guns are all permanently coated in Vaseline and cannot reliably be handled.
Pantene kills most of the bad guys over a 15-minute stretch when the squad of six bad guys splits up six ways and he proceeds to sneak up and silently strangle every single one of them one at a time. In a green house. Without them noticing. And never picking up any of their dropped guns. He’s like the Predator, with fantastic hair.
I feel it is necessary at this juncture to let you know that I discovered while writing this review that Meth Fieri:
Is played by the guy who was the psychotic ginger bully in A Christmas Story 40 years ago:
I choose to believe that this means that Survive the Game is part of the Christmas Story Cinematic Universe.
Oh, let’s talk about the car chases. Can we talk about the car chases? There are several. In all of them, the cars are obviously going about 20 mph, and tire screeches have been badly dubbed on top with no relation to the actual movement of the vehicles. How do I know the cars were going 20 mph? Because they kept snapping to close-ups of the speedometers, and neglected to get those as establishing shots when the cars were on actual highways at something approaching a real speed. They literally zoomed in to show off the throbbing adrenaline of accelerating from 20 to 25 mph. Multiple times.
It is also important to note that all of those exaggerated tire screeches were amidst car chases taking place on dirt roads. I repeat. The tires were screeching on dirt roads.
Shall we discuss the acting? Well, Bruce Willis puts on a clinic. If the clinic was a medieval hospital that burned down after a dysentery outbreak. Just like in Cosmic Sin, Willis — a veteran of SEVERAL movies in which he manages to say actual words — sounds like a deep-faked version of himself, Shatner stuttering all over the place with a staccato combination of flat affect followed by overenunciation of arbitrary syllables. At one point he pronounces “yes” with three entirely different vowel sounds. He looks so bored and disgusted the entire time, and his sentences are so short and weird and clipped that I think his contract literally had a cap of 100 words of dialogue.
At one point there’s a long scene where an American and Brit are arguing about Elvis and the Queen of England for no discernable reason, with what I can only hope was extemporaneous dialogue, while Willis just stares into the camera, praying that he will have an aneurysm.
Chad Michael Murray also shows up and naturally he is a decorated veteran with a dead wife and kid. There’s an extended flashback where he gets distracted playing with the kid with a stuffed bunny while trying to drive. Screech, boom, fridge the family. Should have put the bunny back in the box, Chad. He tells Meth Fieri to just shoot him because it’d be doing him a favor, and honestly I don’t think he’s acting.
Chad teams up with Pantene to fight the drug dealers who have shown up on his farm. Despite them having no weapons. And the fact that the “farm” is a really nice bungalow sitting on top of a hill surrounded by palm trees and having no crops. Ooh, maybe he’s bitcoin farming. Multiple characters insist that there’s nowhere to run to for help because the farm is so isolated. This dialogue is all spoken while houses on nearby hills are fully in view behind them as they speak. I’m suspicious that Chad wasn’t acting and he’s just being filmed as actual people invade his vacation home.
Somewhere around an hour in, the movie loses all semblance of even trying to pretend to be an actual professional production. A bad guy is told to move a car, runs it into a wall instead, and then yells at his drug lord boss for inconsiderately not asking if he was okay and storms off. Another one yells “I should have gone to law school” when marching off into some vague direction. Another thug tells the drug lord boss that “It’s hurtful when you talk to me like that” when his murdering skills are criticized. And then after one of the dozen armed criminals is found dead, another one of them begins crying uncontrollably and sobs “I didn’t know we could die.” A woman with a gun runs up behind Bruce Willis near the end and yells “Got you!” and then drops the gun and runs away screaming when he turns around.
None of this gives the impression of being humorous or ironic. In fact, I think it is entirely possible this was a snuff film and all of this dialogue was actual unscripted thoughts of unemployed actors who thought they were getting a big break being in a Bruce Willis action movie and are now buried in the jungle surrounding Chad Michael Murray’s house. Oh my god, that’s why the title is a reference to The Most Dangerous Game.
I cannot in good conscience recommend you watch this movie. However, if you go into it understanding that it is the worst thing you will ever watch, then at some point in the runtime it becomes something transcendent. Not in the sense of being so bad that it’s good, but because it is such an utter train wreck of the cinematic arts that you start crying tears of blood. It becomes something pure in that moment, an incarnation of utter chaos splayed onto a screen.
I will leave you with some of the final words of Meth Fieri: “He may have gotten his pound of flesh, but I’m still raring to cha-cha.” Haunting stuff.
Survive the Game is available for digital rental as of October 8, 2021.
Steven Lloyd Wilson is a hopeless romantic and the last scion of Norse warriors and the forbidden elder gods. His novel, ramblings, and assorted fictions coalesce at www.burningviolin.com. You can email him here.
Header Image Source: Lionsgate