***1/2 out of *****
Beyond the Reach offers up happy corroboration that filmmaker Jean-Baptiste Léonetti’s astonishing dystopian science fiction masterpiece Carré Blanc was no first feature fluke. Léonetti is the real thing and he can direct rings round most contemporary genre helmers. Instead of all the tin-eyed boneheads who keep directing any number of visually challenged studio abominations, Léonetti has ‘go-to guy’ written all over him.
Based on Deathwatch, a hugely popular boys’ adventure novel written by the prolific author Robb White (who also toiled as William Castle’s screenwriter on such exploitation delights as The House on Haunted Hill, 13 Ghosts, The Tingler, Macabre and Homicidal), it was competently adapted by Stephen Susco. Updating the late 60s setting of the book, the script invests it with the right amount of macho existentialism, ultra-violence, hilariously nasty black humour and up-to-the-minute social commentary involving the haves and have-nots of the world.
I have to admit, however, that I originally went into the picture knowing only that it was Léonetti’s sophomore feature starring Michael Douglas, and it was only while watching the movie that I realized its literary pedigree. That it was based on one of many White books I read as a kid (and still proudly own some 40-plus years later) turned out to be extra layers of icing on this very rich cake. (Pathetically, I even remembered seeing the fine ABC Movie of the Week entitled Savages, which starred Andy Griffith and Sam Bottoms in the lead roles.)
This stirring mano a mano variant on The Most Dangerous Game faithfully sticks to the original main characters of White’s book, and for good reason – you can’t beat a winning formula. Madec (Douglas) is a disgustingly rich cell-phone-tied dealmaker who hires the impoverished Ben (hunky Jeremy Irvine of War Horse fame) to be his guide in the deadly Mojave Desert so he can bag a new hunting trophy (he boasts having many), the rare bighorn sheep. The two men are clearly oil and water, but their time together eventually yields a father-son-like bond. Alas, Madec accidentally shoots something he shouldn’t. When it’s clear Ben won’t go for a whopping bribe, the sportsman in Madec sends Ben into the desert so he can hunt him down, but also gives the lad a fighting chance. Ben proves to be a formidable adversary. This fuels Madec even further.
Léonetti keeps the suspense taut, the action blistering and his exquisite eye for placing man against imposing backdrops has not at all wavered since Carré Blanc. His delightfully grim sense of humour is also set to overdrive, especially since Michael Douglas is remarkably game to chew the scenery and spit out one nasty line after the other.
The only place Lé:onetti is let down by Susco’s otherwise fine script is during the climactic moments, which feel like a perverse bargain basement Fatal Attraction. Given Michael Douglas’s involvement in that film, this could have been a cool borderline post-modernist touch, but the action is rendered far too straight up and oddly, and one can feel Léonetti not quite at ease. You can’t blame him. He’s handed gold, then when it counts the most, his producer (Douglas) and screenwriter toss him a smelly bighorn sheep turd.
Luckily for us, we don’t have to smell it for too long and its aroma doesn’t overpower the rest of the film’s smells of victory.