[This is a submission to the White Elephant blogathon called by Silly Hats Only.]
Submitting Surviving the Game for the White Elephant blogathon is like giving an unwieldy lump of coal to a child on Christmas day: As malicious gestures go, it’s a doozy. Yet another remake of The Most Dangerous Game, Surviving the Game is sadly only a little bugfuck crazy and largely just obnoxious and boring. It’s bad enough that screenwriter Eric Bernt (Bachelor Party Vegas, Highlander: Endgame) doesn’t know how to make his stock plot about a homeless man that gets hunted for sport by a group of crazy, rich guys relatable or recognizably human. What’s worse is that director Ernest R. Dickerson (Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight, Bulletproof) has absolutely no eye for spectacle. He makes violence seem almost anathema to his vision of even though he’s remaking a movie where human beings are treated like animals for the amusement of others.
Both Bernt and Dickerson had the chance to make Surviving the Game a heck of a live-action loony tune thanks in small part to its motley crew of a cast; the film’s victim is Ice-T and the hunters include Rutger Hauer, F. Murray Abraham, John C. McGinley, and Gary Busey. But no, the film’s creative brain trust opted to play their bonkers scenario straight, because apparently they thought class warfare could be engaged on some level by making Ice-T wear blackface, with full-on red lipstick and black charcoal face make-up, and booby-trap Hauer’s gun. Braindead revanchism has rarely looked so stupid.
Each line of dialogue in Surviving the Game is more overreaching and inexplicable than the last. Ice-T plays Mason, a sarcastic homeless guy that watches his best friend die in his sleep and then his dog get hit by a cab in rapid succession. He accepts a job from a do-gooder Christian (Charles S. Dutton), but only after protesting that he’d only take the job if pays well (“Exactly how much money are we talking here?”). He gets the job after proving to another disingenuous flunkey that he can run on a treadmill for a half hour (“For 20 dollars, I’ll run to fucking Alaska!”). Ice-T then gets duped into attending Thomas Burns’s (Hauer) retreat and getting hunted for sport. He survives because, as he gloats to Dutton, you should “never underestimate a man that’s got nothin’ to lose.”
One of the many reasons why Surviving the Game doesn’t work is that any tentative intelligence in its preposterous scenario was largely rendered unintelligible by Dickerson’s asinine direction. It’s unclear whether or not we’re supposed to laugh at the closet full of severed heads that Mason discovers soon after the hunt begins. What’s even more puzzling is when he plunks down in a roach motel only for the landlord to bellow up the stairs at him, “Hey, you wash your nasty ass before you get in that bed.” Surely this made sense as a joke at some point?
Then again, I may be giving Dickerson too much credit for capsizing an already lousy idea. It’s telling that the star of the film is Ice-T, the former Body Count member that we once knew as the guy that sang “Cop Killer” and not “That Law & Order guy.” T’s over-determined angry-young-black-man shtick gets tiresome real fast in Surviving the Game. Every time he tries to sound tougher and more weatherworn than any other guy on screen he proves just how desperate he is as an actor, like when he throws Busey’s character through a window into the aforementioned closet of severed heads, now on fire. Busey’s character has just told him that, “I like my meat rare,” so naturally Ice-T responds, “Try well-done, bitch!” after he defenestrates his opponent. The way he leans on that “bitch” is so damn sad, like it was the only way that he could prove how tough his character is.
That horrid line reading could admittedly be partially Dickerson’s fault, but the fact is that Ice-T willingly said it. He, the paragon of angry-young-blackitude everywhere, should have known better, especially for all of the scenes he’s made to wear makeup to plump up his red lips and then later, in the film’s finale, full-on blackface. Again, ostensibly at one point this made sense to him and everyone else involved. But in the film, it just looks like a lame act of passing that doesn’t resonate today beyond a bemused, “What the hell was that all about?”