Roar, 3.5 readers. Very roar, indeed.
BQB here with a review of this stinkburger.
I think we have a contender for the Razzie Award for Worst Film of 2022. When I first saw the trailer, I wanted to like it. The premise is pretty simple yet scary. A father takes his young daughters on a photo safari of remote African wilderness. Alas, various problems ensue and the family ends up stuck in an immobile car, about to become lion chow if they venture too far outside for too long. In other words, it’s Cujo but with a lion instead of a rabid dog.
The film has a lot when it comes to special effects. Flicks are using CGI animals more and more, the good news being that real animals no longer have to be treated like furry, feathery clowns for our amusement. (They never did but that’s a longer convo.) The downside is that filmmakers need to learn to use restraint when it comes to having CGI animals do ridiculous things a real animal would never do. While I understand that every film requires a certain suspension of disbelief, an early scene where two CGI enormous adult lions hug and romp with Sharlto Copley, embracing him like friendly housecats rather than rip him to shreds is absurd.
The problem is there is very little plot to back the film up. What little plot there is, is very contrived and not enough to flesh out the film’s short run time of 90 minutes. Essentially, Idris Elba plays Dr. Nate Samuels, a medical doctor whose wife Amahle recently died after a period of estrangement between the couple.
Nate brings his daughters Meredith and Norah (Iyana Halley and Leah Jeffries) on a trip to their mother’s homeland, hoping to find, I don’t know. Spiritual enlightenment. Reconnection with their lost matriarch. A chance to get away from it all. Typical movie brat Meredith treats her old man like garbage, blaming her father for quote unquote “not being there” in typical fashion of a young person who hasn’t been knocked around by the world enough times to realize that expectations never quite match up to reality and bottomline, if Mom didn’t want Dad to be there, then he couldn’t have been there. The reason for the separation is never given other than a vague idea that the couple wasn’t getting along.
The Samuels family’s tour guide of Africa is Martin Battles, played by none other than white South African actor Sharlto Copley. There’s a bit of irony in this casting choice. Given today’s uber woke world, one can’t help but scratch their head at the idea of a white man acting as the protector of a black family during their trip to Africa. However, Copley has been an actor and filmmaker for years, much of his work devoted to a love of the land he grew up in and ultimately, putting issues of race aside, the Samuels family are a bunch of city slickers from New York while Battles is an expert when it comes to African wildlife, having put in years of helping to conserve native species.
In other words, one might look at the premise through a different type of woke lens, that being race doesn’t automatically make one an expert in one subject or another. The Samuels are New Yorkers who know little of the Savannah, but Dr. Samuels is a practiced medicine man called upon to save lives at various parts in the film. Battles is white, but grew up in the area and through experience, learned all about fighting poachers, speaking native languages, keeping one step ahead of hungry lions.
But yeah, I get why viewers of African descent might roll their eyes at that early scene where the lions hug and romp with Sharlto as if he’s a modern-day White Lion King, Tamer and Friend to all African Wildlife he surveys.
At any rate, once the crappy plot is out of the way, the Samuels must survive the attack of a lion on the prowl for revenge after his pride is shot by poachers. An even earlier scene tells us this is no ordinary lion as it slashes through a pack of poachers with a vengeance. There’s one strange part where one poacher gets caught in a snag wire only to become lion food and I can only assume the idea is that he was hoisted on his own petard, i.e. he forgot where his pals laid the wire. Yeah, not gonna lie for a minute I had to pause it, scratch my head and think, “Did that lion lay that trip wire?”
If you can suspend, and I mean really suspend disbelief, then this flick is a nice brief diversion. I wouldn’t bother renting it. Wait for streaming. Though there are some scary scenes, there are also eyerolling scenes where Idris Elba somehow magically uses, I don’t know, father’s love strength to kick the ass of this killer cat rather than become lion food, as we all would, because it is a damn lion.
STATUS: Not shelf-worthy. With a little more flushing out of the plot, this might have been better. I’m not sure if Elba had to be in this movie or if it was just a payday, but he’s too good for such drek. Frankly, Copley is too good for this drek. Even the young actresses playing the daughters were too good for this drek. Dang it, even the CGI lion was too good for this drek.
SIDENOTE: I think the nuclear proliferation of streaming services is turning films into drek. When I saw this trailer, I immediately predicted it would be drek because I had a hunch the filmmakers wouldn’t take it seriously but rather, would throw together a haphazard plot then make the movie largely dependent on some scares courtesy of a CGI lion. One of the girls wears a Jurassic Park shirt, perhaps a tribute to another film where kids ran and hid from CGI beasts, but at least there was some substance, some intrigue to the madness. In other words, give us more. Maybe the family gets tricked into entering the lion reserve or something. I don’t know. Ultimately, streaming media = Hollywood feels the need to churn out the schlock at a rapid pace and the substance is lost. There were good actors and actresses here. There were good special effects here. It just needed a better script, and perhaps more time and money to back that script up.