For Surviving the Game, Ernest Dickerson graduated to the second level of his directing. His prior film Juice found Omar Epps and Tupac Shakur beating about the hood. The former carries a literary threshold. Not as a word play, though Gary Busey makes a childhood reminiscence about cherry bombs in the forest appear as radical and lived-in as any frame of Robert Shaw’s shark hunter in Jaws.
Meanwhile, composer Stewart Copeland opts for abstract tones, homeless jazz and a wilderness theme a few octaves down from John Barry. As for the plot, Ice-T plays Mason, a down and outer who remembers better days -- a job, wife and child -- all gone. He gets a card from Cole (Charles S. Dutton trying to shake off the xeno saliva from Alien 3) as a promise of employment. He will be a hunting guide for six men. Where? Copeland knows.
There’s a sweeping intimacy to the camera line, a jolt here and a nod there. Not to cinema for Dickerson employs the tongue of the street, the rhyme of the ghetto. One half expects and demands that Ice-T break the wall of fours and perform some rap. Goodness knows the dialogue carries enough F bombs to sink a granny submarine.
Not forgetting Rutger Hauer, the most organic character thespian west of Max Von Sydow. He betrays not a hint of the true plan whereby Mason will be a runner, only running for his life.
Gags strut the visual awareness motif: A tree smoking three cigarettes decoys for another type of hit, while a cave can be seen glowing in the dark like a star given shape and form by a telescope.
So remember to check the barrel and stare that ham in the eye when Surviving the Game knocks for the first time.
(Released by New Line Cinema and rated "R" by MPAA.)