Movie Review: Beyond the Reach

Beyond the Reach onesheet

Nutshell: Beyond the Reach is another one of those riffs on the Most Dangerous Game thriller sub-genre.  The performances are riveting, yet I couldn’t get past the “well, which one of these cardboard characters are gonna survive?” feeling.  An interesting fake-out ending, with the ever-popular “and then…” that ends things for good and all. Go watch Deliverance — or better still, 1932’s The Most Dangerous Game — to see how it’s really done.  Grade: C

Longhorn hunting. It’s early for the season, but when a guy pays 1K a day… Wait, that’s no Longhorn!

And so goes Beyond the Reach, a film that takes the “man hunts man” story and goes indie on it’s ass.  I really wanted to love this film, but I couldn’t get past the basics.  Why?  Because the basics is all we’re given in this film.  Douglas – as rich douchbag Madec – is a bougie idiot that’s always telling everyone how much something costs. He has no respect for anything, and thinks anything can be bought. Travels into the wilderness with an SUV stocked with a convection oven and espresso machine. Basically a 1%er nightmare. Gordon Gecko with a gun. Hey!

Jeremy Irvine (War Horse) is Ben, the kid that is hired to schlep Madec around the desert in the hopes of landing a longhorn.  Ben is broke as a joke, but a good tracker. He’s also got some separation issues, as his GF just left to start school in Colorado.

So cut to the Mojave Desert, where Madec shoots a guy by accident, and instead of doing the right thing – that would have surely had him exonerated with his cadre of high priced lawyers – he frames the boy. Then later, Madec forces Ben to strip (insert gratuitous but highly appreciated six-pack shot here), and forces him to wander under the desert sun. And so the cat vs. mouse game goes, til the movie ends an hour and ten long minutes later. Looooong minutes later. Okay fine; it’s not all desert-bound for the entire film.  But almost.

When does the real desert chase start? Minute 32. But I was done investing in this story by minute 25. Why? Because a Most Dangerous Game story doesn’t resonate with me if there’s no buildup. Viewers are supposed to understand Madec, and feel for Ben in the space of 15 minutes. And the screenwriter and director don’t manage that. So it ends up a One Guy Chasing Another story. Might as well fast forward to see who wins, as these characters don’t mean anything to me. (But I didn’t, because I care about you. And am a movie masochist.) Then there’s the last scene, with the usual “surprise climax” moviegoers have come to expect ever since Friday the 13th. Boo, who cares. At least this film lets the good guy win, and gotta admit I’m always a fan of a happy ending. What? I can’t possibly spoil a movie 99% of folks won’t have the intestinal fortitude to sit through.

The good?  Sure, there’s a couple of things.  There are some absolutely gorgeous landscape shots, and a real feeling of heat and misery in the desert scenes, courtesy of Oscar winner Russell Carpenter (Titanic). Then there’s the amazing FX makeup by Corey Welk (Breaking Bad, The Avengers); Welk is a talent I’d like to see more of.  (Hoping to catch his prosthetics work in Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials later this year.)  And the art direction paints a realistic scene of life on the outskirts of a desert.  Bravo, James F. Oberlander (Into the West), Clark Hunter (The Mindy Project) and Edward McLoughlin (Longmire).  Bonus points to Stephen Susco’s paint-by-numbers yawn of a screenplay for a WALL*E reference.

There’s a decent amount of suspense here, and the performances are excellent. But if I don’t care about the characters? Meh.  I just wasn’t all in, and for a film that requires you to care about what happens to the only two folks onscreen for the bulk of the story?  That’s the kiss of death.

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