Photo: IMDB

[Note: All three movie theaters on Maui are closed until further notice due to the COVID-19 pandemic.]

One of the most frequently adapted stories is “The Most Dangerous Game” by Richard Connell, in which rich humans hunt poor people for sport. In addition to an official film adaptation in 1932 (Connell’s story was published in 1924) and various rip-offs, we’ve had everyone from Ice-T (in Ernest Dickerson’s under-valued Surviving the Game) to (my absolute favorite) Jean-Claude Van Damme on the run from wealthy hunters in Hard Target, John Woo’s fantastic first US film. 

Now, there’s The Hunt, in which “deplorables” are stalked and murdered by wealthy elites brandishing guns, bow and arrows, hand grenades, and anything else to inflict a “killin.” The obvious gimmick is here is that the hunters are Democrats and the prey are Republicans, making for an attempt at social commentary that fails in every conceivable way. 

Remember that awful final scene in Vice, in which a fight breaks out between conservative and liberal audience members? This is that scene, stretched out to feature-length. Anyone regarding this as a spoof is either an optimist or unaware of how a send-up works; The Hunt is as much a satire as Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan is a love story. 

It treads territory that “South Park,” “Saturday Night Live,” and any late-night talk show opening monologue has already covered but minus any wit, biting commentary, and anything truly funny or refreshing to say. It seems to think it’s a satire and it’s not. In fact, at 89 minutes, it’s barely even a movie.

The Red State versus Blue State angle results in some gory deaths and dialogue intended to be edgy but which comes across as desperate and cringe-worthy. Here’s a sample: After blowing a redneck away, the killer proclaims, “Global Warming is NOT a myth!” It’s like a political cartoon that gives us caricatures but no punchline. 

Back to “The Most Dangerous Game” – the best movie loosely based on it comes from Japan, Kinji Fukusaku’s 2000 Battle Royale, in which Japanese school children hunt and murder one another on an island. It was intended as a satire of the competitive quality of the Japanese education system and deemed so offensively violent, it never received a theatrical release in the US (elsewhere, it was an acclaimed blockbuster). We never got our American remake of Battle Royale. Instead, we were served up the middle-of-the-road, extremely watered-down rip-off called The Hunger Games (did Suzanne Collins somehow get a pass for blatant plagiarism?). Among the numerous problems with The Hunt is that it thinks it has the edge of Battle Royale (it doesn’t) and even lacks the meager political reflection of the later Hunger Games installments. 

The director of this is Craig Zobel, who previously made Compliance, the one where the mystery man on the phone talks a fast food joint into molesting a random victim; I despised that film, though it had a valid point to make about collective stupidity. Here, there’s no intelligence or insightful reflection, just gore and a series of scenes where C-grade actors (Emma Roberts, Ethan Suplee, Ike Barinholtz) enter and violently exit the movie. Somehow, great performers like Amy Madigan and Reed Birney turn up, alongside two-time Oscar-winner Hilary Swank as the evil mastermind (was Helen Mirren unavailable? Oh right, she was probably using her talent to appear in Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw. Sorry, my bad).

Betty Gilpin of “GLOW” may one day emerge as a breakout film star, but it won’t be from starring in this movie; Gilpin is one-note and has an overly attentive accent (couldn’t they have just hired a Southerner?) that never endears. She’s not alone, as there’s no one onscreen to root for or care about.

Astonishingly, this was written by Damon Lindelof (co-creator of “Lost”) and Nick Cuse (writer on HBO’s “The Leftovers” and “Watchmen”). Perhaps the last time two talented wordsmiths collaborated on a screenplay this bad, it was Bruce Joel Ruben and Michael Tolkin on Deep Impact (which was still a better movie). 

As an alleged comedy, it’s not funny, just smug and poorly timed. As an action movie, it’s clunky and trying too hard. It’s so unpleasant and redundant, it’s hard to even consider it entertainment, let alone escapism.

The Hunt seems really proud of itself but there’s nothing here in front of or behind the camera to celebrate. Following a discarded September 2019 ad campaign and release date (that was met with general indifference) and deemed poorly timed in light of recent shootings and shelved because of backlash towards the film initial trailer, The Hunt has belatedly re-emerged. Now, with a clever campaign (“The most talked about movie of the year that no one’s actually seen”) and amazingly even worse timing, The Hunt is now playing in a theater near you, at a time when audience members worldwide are mostly staying away from movie theaters. Fear of a fast-acting virus is good enough reason to avoid The Hunt but here’s another: It’s awful.

Zero Stars

Rated R/89 Min.

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