Jack Mason (Ice-T) has been living on the streets of Seattle ever since the death of his wife and daughter. When Cole (Charles S. Dutton), the friendly man at the soup kitchen, tells Mason that he can get him a job, the suicidal Mason accepts. It turns out that a group of wealthy men are going on a hunting trip and they need a guide to lead them through the wilderness. Mason accepts but, upon arriving, he discovers that the men (who are played by Rutger Hauer, F. Murray Abraham, William McNamara, John C. McGinley, and, of course, Gary Busey) are actually planning on playing the most dangerous game and hunting him for the weekend.
There are definitely better versions out there of Richard Connell’s famous short story. One of the best, John Woo’s Hard Target, was released a year before Surviving the Game. Both films share the idea of rich men hunting down the homeless for fun. Surprisingly, it is Woo’s film that seems to take the idea, with all of its societal implications, more seriously. Surviving the Game may present Jack Mason as being a suicidal homeless man but there is never any doubt that he is actually Ice-T, everyone’s favorite rapper and all-around badass. But it’s precisely because Ice-T has such a recognizable persona that Surviving the Game is a guilty pleasure. There is never any doubt that Ice-T can survive the game because Ice-T is the fucking game. Matching Ice-T every step of the way is a rogue’s gallery of recognizable character actors, all of whom bring a different type of crazy to the proceedings. When a movie delivers the spectacle of Ice-T being hunted by and then hunting Gary Busey and Rutger Hauer, it is easy to forgive whatever plot holes might be present in the script.
One final note: Surviving the Game was directed by Ernest R. Dickerson. Dickerson got his start of Spike Lee’s cinematographer so it’s not surprising that Surviving the Game looks great.