Surviving the Game (1994) — Ice-T vs. Gary Busey

“Never underestimate a man who’s got nothing to lose.”

Lissa’s rating: SOMEBODY owes me big time!

Lissa’s review: Sometime back in December of 2003, we Mutants were asked to make a New Year’s resolution concerning movies. “Gee. I’ve never made one that didn’t have the word ‘pounds’ in it,” I thought. “What kind of resolution can you make about movies?”

I thought about resolving to watch and review all the Ewan McGregor flicks, but then reminded myself that that such a task would involve not only seeing Velvet Goldmine and Eye of the Beholder again, but also The Pillow Book, and no amount of naked Ewan McGregor was going to make that worthwhile. So, I asked my husband what resolution I should make. Very mindful of the fact he was going to be subjected to whatever I chose, he suggested reviewing movies with musicians.

Last night he says, “I’m really in the mood to see Surviving the Game again! Let’s watch that!” Not having a better alternative in mind and realizing I need to make some headway on my resolution, I agree.

Surviving the Game is an Ice-T effort centered around an interesting premise. He plays a homeless man named Mason who is hired by some rich guys to be their “hunting guide.” See the previews or read the back of the one VHS box hubby could find, and you immediately find out that the “hunting guide” is what these men are actually hunting. Not the most original concept ever, but a deep and exciting look into the darker nature of man, right?


You pop this movie in, and after watching previews for movies that were released in 1994 (which I always think is kind of funny), you’re treated to a pretty exciting sequence: the final stages of a hunt and a homeless man trying to save his dog from getting run over. The hunting sequence is really pretty primal and gets the adrenaline going. But the dog? It just kind of smacks of cheesiness, and cheesiness is not a quality I want in a movie about man’s dark nature.

And it takes FOREVER to get to that dark nature. Over forty-one minutes before we get to the real premise of the film. And what is that forty-one minutes filled with? Drawn-out stuff that I have absolutely no idea how it relates to the rest of the movie. There’s this huge long thing about a friend that Mason’s got that we never hear about again. What was it there for? The entire second half of the movie could have taken place without this segment — and probably should have.

Once we get past this, we’re introduced to the hunters. They’re a rather interesting lot, played by Gary Busey (so you know they’re gonna be evil), Rutger Hauer, Charles Dutton, John C. McGinley, William McNamara, and F. Murray Abraham. It pains me to see F. Murray Abraham fall from Salieri to this. Actually, all of these guys have impressively long filmographies, although I didn’t really recognize any of the others. (Well, I “recognized” Gary Busey, because I thought he was the religious maniac in Contact, but it turns out that was his son.) They have a pretty classy hunting cabin, but they are a bunch of nuts. If Mason doubts this before, he shouldn’t after the explanation of Busey’s “birthmark.”

There are some pretty cool moments. The start of the hunt is rather well done. Mason getting into the locked room is suitably tense, even though you knew from the get-go what was in there. A few of Mason’s tactics are interesting, but none of this can possibly rescue the movie.

What kills this movie is the dialogue. It’s painful, nauseating, giggle-inducing stuff. It’s heavy-handed and sounds like maybe it could have been written by junior high kids, except the junior high kids I work with are much more creative and subtle. I think they would have done a better job with it, to be brutally honest.

And the psychology! Okay, so Gary Busey’s character is supposed to be a psychologist (or a psychiatrist, I forget which), but I’m not convinced he made it through grad school. It’s not that I think his diagnoses are off, but his manner of speaking and analyzing sounds like a pretentious freshman who’s just taken his first psych class and thinks they are now qualified to analyze their friends.

And what cracks me up even more is the effusiveness between these men. Now, I know men CAN communicate, despite what Cathy cartoons and Dr. Laura might say. But in my experience, they do not spill their guts openly. They do not near tears — especially when talking with their buddies. They do not psychoanalyze themselves, or at least not out loud. And they don’t tie each other up, tell each other their deepest secrets and pains, and then decide that everything’s okay between them and they were both wrong. Well, unless you guys have some secret society that I’m not aware of, anyway. (I know you do, but I always envision it being more along the lines of the Simpson’s Stonecutters than a therapy group.)

It’s kind of sad, because Surviving the Game could have been a decent movie. But I think my husband summed it up best when we finally turned the movie off, and he looked at me mournfully and said, “Actually, that was much worse than I remembered.”

Yeah. The only thing that’s stopping me from inflicting Crossroads as revenge is the fact that I’d have to watch it too.

Didja notice?

  • Ice T got some really bad back makeup.
  • Absolutely spotless underwear.
  • The new design rage — antler chandeliers!
  • Despite their money, these people insist on chewing with their mouths open.
  • Dawn comes quickly in Hell’s Canyon!

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