Studio: Uncork’d Entertainment
Director: Ryan Bellgardt
Writer: Ryan Bellgardt, Galen Christy, Adam Hampton
Producer: Ryan Bellgardt, Josh McKamie, Andy Swanson, Chris Hoyt, Jessi Sanfilippo, Harry Wolohan
Stars: Ryan Merriman, Perrey Reeves, Adam Hampton, Katie Burgess, Cate Jones, Erica Daily, Lucas Ross, Kyle Pennington, Rett Terrell, Tiger Sheu
Death Row inmates fight to be the sole survivor in a nationally televised game show pitting them against deadly dinosaurs.
Feedback from regular readers has made me aware that I’ve acquired a reputation for being harder to please than many peers. It seems my standards are such that when I do put praise on a film, kind words can be construed as a Mikey from Life cereal recommendation whether I mean it that way or not.
I admit this notion has infected my head enough that when I find favor with a marginal movie, I consciously consider that I could be presenting the film more positively than it deserves. Since I would never wish to rate something unfairly simply to keep up appearances of having high taste, I want to make something crystal clear about “The Jurassic Games.”
“The Jurassic Games” earns a predominantly positive review because it is precisely the kind of knowingly campy B-movie I expected it to be, and exactly what I wanted to watch at the time. That doesn’t necessarily equate to it being “good,” and definitely doesn’t mean I think you should see it.
In fact, if you’re here to take a meter reading regarding whether the movie might float your boat, what you really should do is seek out the trailer. Those two minutes will reveal everything required to decide if “The Jurassic Games” fits your style far better than five minutes with this review ever could.
Sometime after 2040 (you have to closely examine throwaway text to gauge when “The Jurassic Games” takes place), America has found a way to satiate the public’s appetite for violent reality TV by putting ten Death Row inmates in a Thunderdome fight for survival against prehistory’s most fearsome predators. Sort of. Contestants are actually hooked into VR simulators operated by a crew of techies and broadcasters controlling the computer-generated action. However, anyone who dies in the simulation will die in reality by an automated lethal injection, just as their death sentences prescribed.
More than anything, the VR angle doubles as a good gimmick for partly justifying why the dinosaurs look like what they are: animated CGI creations. Although considering this is a production where every penny comes at a premium, the creatures are surprisingly well done. Of course they can’t compete with the denizens of Isla Nublar, but I’d go so far as to say these are the best effects anyone is likely to see at the Syfy/Asylum level of mockbuster midnight movie.
I’ll do that compliment one better by adding that while there may not be as much dino action as there could be, the filmmakers don’t chintz out when monsters do make it onscreen. The path of least resistance would be to Battlestar Galactica the effects by repurposing shots or models over and over and over again. Yet “The Jurassic Games” goes through the trouble of generating a saber-toothed tiger instead of reusing another velociraptor, drops three T-Rexes into the finale when they could have gotten away with one, and even includes triceratopses and brontosauruses, which makes no sense since they were herbivores that wouldn’t attack humans anyway. The point is, the computer FX crew put in respectable work.
Does every aspect of “The Jurassic Games” try as hard as it can? Nah. Interior environments are embarrassingly Spartan, with the Flintstones-like recycling of a singular hallway simulating a labyrinthine maze being particularly laughable. Still, a truly low-rent production would have grabbed exteriors by shooting the Hell out of a backyard or public park. “The Jurassic Games” instead takes its team to the sand, a lake, fallen rocks, and a forest.
Again, the movie may be cheap, but it isn’t lazy. Enough fantasy gives form to the fiction that you can have fun as long as your imagination applies sandpaper to rough patches.
Acting in particular requires generous use of that sandpaper. The best to be said is that performances are about as minimally believable as necessary for this sort of thing. A cast can only take so much heat when embodying cardboard cutouts like the wrongfully convicted family man, coldblooded black widow, or cutthroat redneck anyway. There’s only one tank of charisma for a dozen main players, which is clearly not enough fuel for everyone. Might as well mention that every extra is obviously a filmmaking friend or family member, as they all bear that distinct non-Hollywood look of someone more likely to be your next-door neighbor.
To put additional context behind the muted acclaim offered at the opening, I’m a guy who grew up on the USA Up All Night kitsch of Rutger Hauer in “Deadlock” and Christopher Lambert in “Fortress.” Not that “The Jurassic Games” bats in that league, but it scratches an itch for disposable drive-in thrills on a small screen scale.
It’s not particularly hammy. It’s not particularly humorous. Yet the movie’s cheesiness comes in tolerable dollops befitting a film that satisfies a particular mood. That mood might be “there’s nothing better on late night cable, guess I’ll open a beer,” but we need entertainment for times like those too.
Review Score: 65