James Cullen Bressack’s Survive The Game begins with two detectives, Cal (Swen Temmel) and David (Bruce Willis), making a drug bust. However, the mission goes awry, David gets shot, and lovers/criminals Jean (Zack Ward) and Violet (Kate Katzman) escape to a nearby farm. Cal tracks down their hiding place, but the two have taken the property owner, veteran Eric (Chad Michael Murray), hostage and are waiting it out until their boss arrives. Now, Cal and Eric must outwit the gang descending upon them in order to survive.
Screenwriter Ross Peacock, making his feature-length debut, does not strive for originality. No, his story bears broad stroke resemblances to the likes of Bobby Z, The Package, and probably half a dozen other titles, one or two of which reliably hit streaming or VOD every year. So, the burden for Peacock is to craft a tale that stands out somehow. In this case, he does so by carefully toeing the line and avoiding some cliches that audiences have come to expect.
For example, David is shot in the opening but does not die; thus, Cal is not seeking revenge for a fallen partner taken out by these very criminals. Nope, they are just two reasonably talented cops who got in over their heads and want to bring these folks to justice. While their motivations aren’t deep, this is preferable to layering on trope after trope. As such, the film is able to stand out in a somewhat crowded field.
“…Cal and Eric must outwit the gang descending upon them…”
But, what’ll keep viewers engaged with Survive The Game is Bressack’s handling of the numerous action scenes. While there are moments of downtime when Cal, Eric, or the swarm of baddies are reconfiguring their plan of attack, the bulk of this 97-minute film is one gun battle or hand-to-hand fight after another. But, happily and crucially, the director makes most of them feel energetic and exciting. For example, a sequence in a field where Cal fights a thug is entertaining, as is the moment revealing Eric’s various skills.
Bressack keeps the tension up even when the action isn’t happening, such as the bargaining that takes place when Jean has a gun to Eric while Cal has a knife at Violet’s throat. The tensest scene, though, is when Andrew (Canyon Prince), Eric’s brother (brother-in-law? It’s not too clear), shows up, and Eric must get him to leave before the violent mobsters take him out. It’s an intense moment that leads to an explosive bout of action.
Sadly, the car chase finale is a letdown. Mainly, this is due to the somewhat awkward and bad sound design of the cars and their constantly screeching tires, even when the vehicles are traveling in a straight line. The discontent between what appears to be happening and what the sound is suggesting is jarring and awkward. Still, for 95% of the runtime, the action beats are solid, so this doesn’t drag everything done too much.
Survive The Game may tell an oft-told story, but the script avoids most well-worn tropes in favor of a no-frills actioner. Said action is exciting and fun throughout, as the game cast (especially Murray and Ward) capably bring the proceedings to life. While the car chase at the end is a misstep, there’s still plenty here to enjoy and recommend if one is in the mood for a straight-up action flick.
"…Bressack keeps the tension up even when the action isn't happening..."