Yet another adaptation of Richard Connell’s fantastic short story, “Surviving the Game” takes the premise of his short “The Most Dangerous Game” and fixes it for modern times with a modern sensibility. While it’s often been derided mainly because it was a straight to video feature mostly, this 1994 feature is one of my favorite action thrillers of the decade. This time Ice T takes on the role of Jack Mason, a homeless man who has an unusual ability to survive even the harshest conditions on the street, and spends most of his days trying to find food to eat and live to see the next day. One fateful afternoon he’s confronted by aristocrat Walter Cole who refers him to big game hunter Thoms Burns who tests Jack’s agility and physical dexterity in exchange for money. What seems like an isolated game by a bored rich man turns in to an endeavor for Jack who is invited by Thomas and his friend Walter Cole (Charles Dutton in a rare villain role) to go along on a hunting trip with them and their group of business associates for a weekend hunting trip in the wilderness to act as their hunting guide.
“Surviving the Game” is a film that shines mostly for the interesting performances by the cast of character actors. F. Murray Abraham is on board as is John C. McGinley, and Gary Busey. Guess which type of character he is among these generally reserved men. The psycho. What a stretch. While most of the trip is filled with uneasy tension, Jack chalks it up to feeling like a fish out of water in a group of men with a lot of money and too much time on their hands. When he wakes up the next morning he discovers the men are violent sociopaths that love to hunt humans on their vacations. And Jack is the kill for this particular trip. Roughed up, and chased in to the woods, Jack is given a head start as the rest of the men take pleasure in potentially hunting and murdering the poor man. The duration of the film is based around Jack attempting to outwit and outmatch this group of men, all of whom are assisted with high powered rifles and tracking equipment.
While Ice T gives a competent enough performance, the real shine is the supporting performances and each man gets their chance to spotlight their own characters twisted sensibilities. Gary Busey in particular is given a demented monologue while Charles Dutton gets to play the heel with great enthusiasm for most of the picture. Rutger Hauer can pretty much play the menacing bastard in his sleep. Ice T pulls off the role of the hero pretty well with some interesting traps he devises that never make him seem above average in the realm of intelligence. He simply knows how to lure the men in to his devices and he does it very well. “Surviving the Game” is much more action based than previous adaptations of the short story, but it’s still a worthy and exciting action based thriller that still entertains. With a slew of talented character actors playing the villains, and Ice T giving a competent performance, “Surviving the Game” is a bold take on the classic Richard Connell short story providing interesting twists to the premise and a great sense of grit to boot. It’s a childhood favorite.