Michael Douglas and War Horse's Jeremy Irvine star in the Mojave thriller Beyond the Reach, opening Friday exclusively at Tower City. It's a must-see for fans of the 1924 short story The Most Dangerous Game and doubles as a grotesque PSA to apply ample sunscreen whenever possible, and certainly when cavorting in regions with limited cloud coverage. The film also features a $500,000 Mercedes Benz SUV/Safari Truck: So, German auto enthusiasts assemble — Komm!
Along with a custom-made Australian rifle, the Mercedes, complete with a built-in espresso machine, signifies the wealth of one John Madux (Douglas), an insurance mogul from Los Angeles who identifies as a big-game hunter and master marksman.
"Rhinos, elephants," he tells his young guide Ben (Irvine), as they set out toward the buttes and tumbleweed and scorching sun of the desert for the first day of a bighorn hunt.
"So it's about trophies for you, huh?" Ben asks, incredulous.
'Tis indeed. And after the trigger-happy Madux accidentally kills a man on a distant ridge, the trophies become less and less traditional. Madux, awkwardly, happens to be negotiating some sort of major deal with a Chinese client via satellite phone. And he's convinced — again, somewhat awkwardly — that the hunting accident will damage his reputation and thereby ruin his business relationship.
Worried that Ben will go blabbing to the authorities, he conspires to kill him indirectly. He makes him strip down to his underpants and follows him through the sun-bleached wasteland in his executively equipped vehicle while Ben, barefoot and sizzling, tries to hump it 50 miles to the highway before dropping dead from heat stroke.
But fear not (or at least, fear less): Ben is "the best tracker in the county, if not the state," and so, heat-induced delirium notwithstanding, he endeavors to use the terrain to his advantage and turn the tables on his tormentor.
No one's going to confuse the contents of the script for "crisp" or "naturalistic" dialogue: There's a stilted, almost archaic way Ben and Madux communicate (excluding, of course, the extended Wall-E reference) and, more broadly, an unsatisfying engine for narrative development.
The problem, at its root, is the depiction of the characters themselves. It's unclear whether that problem originates in the source material, the novel Deathwatch by Robb White, or in this screen adaptation, directed by Frenchman Jean-Baptiste Leonetti. But unlike the diabolical hunter General Zaroff from The Most Dangerous Game, Douglas' John Madux is merely a weekend-hunting tycoon who's accustomed to getting what he wants because he pays for it. He's only hunting the Mojave's coveted bighorn in the first place because he skirted the permitting process via lavish bribes. He's an excellent marksman, sure, and an unrepentant sadist, but despite his truck and his weapon and his occasional taunting over a loudspeaker, he never seems to firmly establish the upper hand.
Still, there are moments of wonderful tension and suspense, amplified by the potential for carnage by sun and stones. Beyond the Reach often fulfills its mission as a thriller, even if it rarely inspires much compassion in its audience.
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