Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Jon Hewitt
Stars: Dominic Purcell, Robert Taylor, Viva Bianca, Nicholas Hammond, Belinda McClory, Carmen Duncan, Suzannah McDonald, Juan Jackson.
Jon Hewitt’s remake of Brian Trenchard-Smith’s 1982 film, an infamous, shockingly violent and trashy piece of Ozploitation that has become something of a cult favourite over the years, is largely unnecessary and unpleasant. Hewitt (Acolytes, Redball, X, etc) usually brings a rough hewn edge to his low budget films that are part of their charm and appeal and which helps overcome their cheap visual aesthetic and guerilla style of filmmaking. But this remake is let down by some lacklustre scripting, some wooden and horribly cliched dialogue, and uncharacteristically leaden performances. And it doesn’t bring anything particularly worthwhile to the material.
Turkey Shoot is set in the not too distant future, where the world is consumed by a war devastating Africa. Partly to distract the masses from the harsh reality of the unpopular war, there is a popular high rating and very violent and bloody television series called Turkey Shoot, in which a convicted criminal is given a chance at freedom by participating in a one sided contest that is reminiscent of the gladiatorial contests of ancient Rome, which were designed to largely appease the masses by giving them blood sport as entertainment.
But it is an unfair competition. Unarmed, the criminals are dropped into an unfamiliar battleground in a controlled environment and pitted against some lethal assassins who are heavily armed. Surveillance cameras are positioned at crucial points throughout the arena and relay the images back to a television studio where a live audience is baying for blood and applauding each vicious kill. A pair of unctuous hosts (Suzannah McDonald and Juan Jackson) offer cheesy commentary, providing statistics on body counts and kill efficiency, and recounting highlights of previous episodes.
The latest contestant forced into the Turkey Shoot arena is Rick Tyler (played by Dominic Purcell, from tv series Prison Break, etc), a disgraced former SEAL who was convicted of orchestrating the massacre of civilians and was court martialed. He was serving a life sentence in the high tech prison known as neo-Alcatraz, when he was chosen to become the latest contestant.
But Tyler proves particularly adept at surviving against overwhelming odds and he becomes a crowd favourite as he makes his way through the various levels of the competition. It doesn’t hurt that his adversaries seem quite incompetent; a team of Navy SEALs armed with automatic weapons and heavy weapons cannot seem to hit Tyler, even when in close quarters or confine spaces. A a deadly sniper named Ramrod (played by Robert Taylor), who is star of the show with over 80 confirmed kills, sits out in the open where Tyler can easily sneak up on him and overpower him rather than camouflaging himself and lying in wait.
And when set loose in an urban environment in the final level of the competition with a bounty on his head, Tyler seems able to move around quite easily and even penetrate places that should be heavily guarded, like a hospital, with impunity. It is these inconsistencies and implausible events that further weaken the film.
The concept of Turkey Shoot seems to have been heavily influenced by Paul Michael Glaser’s 1987 sci-fi thriller The Running Man starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, in which a criminal was pursued through an urban landscape in a televised manhunt while a live audience watched. And it is an idea that also permeates the current hit franchise of The Hunger Games. The concept was also the subject of the black comedy/drama Series 7, which offered a cynical take on reality television and violence as entertainment.
The film has been written by Hewitt and his wife and regular collaborator Belinda McClory, who provide some astute anti-war sentiment that will resonate with contemporary audiences. There is also some political comment on the war on terror that adds a bit of bite and spice to the material.
Hewitt gives us plenty of gore and violence, and the increasingly difficult levels of Turkey Shoot itself seem like a video game in structure, albeit without that sense of urgency or energy. And some of the key action sequences are rather clumsily staged.
However, the film is also let down by some wooden performances and one dimensional characters. Purcell delivers a rather wooden, stolid and one dimensional performance as the monosyllabic anti-hero Tyler, and frankly I couldn’t care what happened to him. McClory brings a rather cold and chilling demeanour to her performance as Meredith Baxter, the foul mouthed and Machiavellian head of the production company who is anxious to manipulate events to ensure the ratings remain high. Nicholas Hammond (from the classic The Sound Of Music and tv series Spiderman, etc) gives a totally bland performance as general Thatcher, Tyler’s former commander. Viva Bianca (daughter of composer Cezary Skubiszewski, who provides the film’s score) adds interest as Navy commander Jill Wilson, who becomes Tyler’s ally in escaping from the Turkey Shoot arena and finding out the truth behind his incarceration.
Hewitt pays homage to Trenchard-Smith’s original film through the casting of a couple of the original stars in small roles here. Roger Ward appears here in a small role as a despotic African dictator who meets a sticky end. It is a fairly small and thankless role. Hewitt has also Carmen Duncan in the role of the US President. And there is a scene from the 1982 film screening on a television set, under its alternate title of Escape 2000.