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‘Surviving the Game’ (R)

By Richard Harrington
Washington Post Staff Writer
April 16, 1994

"Surviving the Game" is this year's model of that favorite Hollywood public-domain vehicle, Richard Connell's short story "The Most Dangerous Game," in which the target of a hunt is . . . man! Jean-Claude Van Damme wore the bull's-eye in last year's "Hard Target," and Ice-T dons it this time around.

By now, this plot has all the thrill and mystery of an Easter egg hunt, but director Ernest Dickerson ("Juice") invests it with a fresh style and visual flair, particularly when the action moves to the great outdoors of the Pacific Northwest, where the homeless hero, Mason (Ice-T), finds himself after unwisely signing up as a hunting guide.

You think Mason would be suspicious about going to work for a company named Hell's Canyon Outfitters. Surely, Mason should be concerned about the dinner guests: Gary Busey as a clearly psychotic shrink and John G. McGinley as an over-the-edgy oil millionaire; F. Murray Abraham as a cutthroat Wall Street pirate, accompanied by son William McNamara; and Rutger Hauer and Charles Dutton as retired CIA spooks.

Not knowing this may be his last supper, Mason goes to bed, only to wake up with a gun in his face and the sudden realization that he's the prey. After that, the movie's off and running through the woods, though the five hunters get to ride on their ATVs. Relying on urban adaptations of his street skills, Mason gradually evens the odds, avoiding the four hunters and learning about that mother, nature, up close and personal. As three hunters continue their pursuit, Mason splits up the last two and gradually finds himself back on home turf for a little hand-to-hand.

Dickerson keeps things moving along briskly and the ensemble manages to survive Eric Bernt's "script" (Connell gets no credit). As for the dreadlocked Ice-T, he avoids the rap trappings of his previous film roles and is generally effective in his survival schemes. Of course, he's had practice with the censors.

"Surviving the Game" contains violence and explicit language.

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