Recently I revisited Surviving the Game, released in 1994. This is one of those schlock movies you don’t necessarily relish revisiting, because your memory tells you what a schlock movie it is.
I guess it’s a function of age, but…well, I invited you to read my review. For deeper thoughts on Surviving the Game and other gems from 1994, check out for RetroPerspective over on The Nerd Party.
My Review of Surviving the Game Starring Rutger Hauer, Ice-T, Charles S. Dutton, Gary Busey, John C. McGinley, and F. Murray Abraham
If I’m honest, I’m being generous with this review. I know this.
I have distinct memories of this being a so-bad-its-good movie. The truth of it is that it’s a mediocre-but-boy-do-I-love-it inheritor of the gems of exploitation film. I had a great time watching it, despite the haphazard ending and visual gumbo that is the opening sequence.
Somehow, the flaws in this movie make it more endearing. The ending is tacked on in the most accelerated fashion imaginable, but it works because material like this demands an ending that gives forced closure. You don’t go to a movie called “Surviving the Game” expecting a nuanced, emotional ending that speaks to the human condition. When things like that happen, it’s positively sublime.
When it doesn’t, it’s the psychological equivalent of a fast food meal. I know I shouldn’t like it, I know I shouldn’t be satisfied, but I am. Oh, how I am.
There are some magnificently over-the-top performances in this, but the true champion in that category is Gary Busey. The camera actually goes slightly out-of-focus while he’s telling his chilling childhood story. You don’t care. It’s spellbinding because you believe this is Gary Busey telling you a true story, not creating a character moment.
Speaking of Busey, the cast in this is insane. It’s insane that these actors agreed to it, and it’s insane the pedigree of the actors. It even features Oscar-winner F. Murray Abraham. “Antonio Salieri” from “Amadeus” is in a schlocky horror-cum-action movie where a Wall Street dad drags his son, without any prior warning, to the woods in order to hunt a human being.
Honestly, I could be talking myself into an even higher rating, but I need to calm myself and remember that this is a movie that completely wastes the potential of its suspense to devolve into a bizarre riff on Deliverance-meets-First Blood.
Like its 1970s forebears, its appetite for impact is so strong that it loses focus of itself. That’s at least half the fun. I concede it’s not great, it’s at best good, but I can’t help loving it. I can’t help it.
So I recommend this movie with a full heart, aware of your possible disdain when you watch it on my recommendation. But I’m honest with you that you’ll enjoy it more than you want, aware that this is speaking to that inner adolescent inside you.
I watched this for RetroPerspective over on The Nerd Party, where we’re revisiting each week in 1994 by viewing selected releases from that week 25 years ago. Sometimes you just draw the short straw, and sometimes you’re just…Surviving the Game.