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Film review: Surviving the Game

Published: Friday, May 6 1994 12:00 a.m. MDT

"Surviving the Game" is a rehash of the oft-filmed yarn "The Most Dangerous Game," about wealthy big-game hunters who pay big bucks for an opportunity to stalk human prey. (Last year Jean-Claude Van Damme starred in another version of the same story, "Hard to Kill.")

In this case, the victim is a despondent homeless man named Mason (Ice-T), who is wandering the streets of Seattle, eating out of trash bins and generally feeling sorry for himself because he lost his family in an accident, which he feels he could have prevented.

One day, after his best friend dies, Mason attempts suicide by stepping in front of a truck. But he is rescued by Cole (Charles S. Dutton), a volunteer at a homeless shelter, who offers Mason a job as a hunting guide.

Mason protests that he doesn't know anything about being a hunting guide, but Cole assures him that he's just the man for the job, if his partner, Burns (Rutger Hauer), agrees. Mason gets the job, of course, and the next day finds himself in Washington State's Northwestern National Forest with a party of enthusiastic hunters - wild-eyed CIA psychiatrist Hawkins (Gary Busey), even wilder-eyed Texas oil millionaire Griffin (John C. McGinley), aggressive Wall Street executive Wolf Sr. (F. Murray Abraham) and Wolf's naive son Derrick (William McNamara).

The next morning, Mason is rudely awakened from a sound sleep, informed that he is the animal to be hunted, and he's given a head start to run off into the woods. Cole, Burns, Hawkins, Griffin and Wolf Sr. are giddy and excited, but Derrick is appalled . . . until his father explains that he has no choice but to join in.

You can guess the rest, which is composed of one confrontation after another as Mason kills off these predators.

First-time screenwriter Eric Bernt doesn't provide any particular twists on the story, and director Ernest Dickerson ("Juice") moves the action in a rudimentary fashion. (Dutton's death scene is particularly outrageous and disgusting.)

What does inject some life into the proceedings is the central performance by Ice-T, who is refreshingly realistic as a sour, disil-lu-sioned, disenfranchised victim who must resort to his wits to survive.

Though the other characters are stereotypes, the fine supporting cast is enjoyable, if over the top. But all of them seem subtle compared to McGinley, who so overplays his role that he seems to think he's in a National Lampoon spoof.

"Surviving the Game" is rated R for violence, gore, profanity, vulgarity and marijuana smoking.

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