Saturday, September 26, 2015

Beyond The Reach

One of the few ABC MOVIE OF THE WEEK segments to receive a major Hollywood remake, 1974’s SAVAGES is a suspenseful desert thriller with a plum leading role for Andy Griffith as a sadistic rich hunter who stalks young guide Timothy Bottoms (THE LAST PICTURE SHOW) in the scorching desert to cover up an accidental killing. A great premise inspired, obviously, by THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME, it also forms the basis of BEYOND THE REACH, which cannily hands the Griffith role to a delightfully scenery-masticating Michael Douglas.

Like SAVAGES, BEYOND THE REACH is based on Robb White’s entertaining novel DEATHWATCH. SAVAGES was paced just perfectly at 72 minutes (LE MANS’ Lee H. Katzin directed it), but with twenty more minutes to fill for the big screen, director Jean-Baptiste Léonetti pulls focus away from the deadly cat-and-mouse game to kill momentum with who-gives-a-turkey backstory about Douglas’ business deal and his guide’s flashbacks about his girlfriend (Hanna Mangan Lawrence) away at college.

Douglas, as established, is the rich hunter from Los Angeles. Named Madec, he arrives in a small desert town in a swank Mercedes looking for a guide to help him bag a bighorn sheep. The sheriff (a welcome Ronny Cox) recommends Ben (STONEWALL’s Jeremy Irvine). He and Madec get along okay in “the reach” (a particularly dangerous section of the Mojave) until Madec accidentally shoots an old prospector.

A weakness of both SAVAGES and BEYOND THE REACH is that the shooting is clearly an accident, albeit one caused by Madec’s reckless behavior. There would likely be little harm in notifying the authorities. But Madec doesn’t want to, and when Ben tries to follow his conscience, Madec strips him and sends him into the desert to die without water. A sadistic bastard, Madec follows Ben at a distance to watch the sun burn the poor kid to death.

With a maddeningly mundane title like BEYOND THE REACH, the film had zero chance to find an audience in theaters (what was wrong with SAVAGES or even DEATHWATCH?). Lionsgate didn’t even try, dumping it on a couple dozen screens and then off to VOD and Blu-ray. Unfortunately, the atrocious ending burns a lot of the goodwill earned by the suspenseful meat of the picture. Do yourself a favor, and stop watching when the movie fades to black.

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