VOD Releases: Never Leave Alive (2017) - Reviewed

Never Leave Alive is a mildly diverting action movie strongly inspired by Richard Connell’s famous 1924 short story The Most Dangerous Game. Disgraced hunter/celebrity/alcoholic Rick Rainsford (wrestler and actor John Hennigan) is on a wildlife campaign of some kind when the ship that he is on crashes. Only he, photographer Anna (Michelle Taylor) and the badly injured bartender survive. They are immediately greeted by a big Russian guy named Ivan (Joseph Gatt) who takes them to a compound in the woods where they meet Colonel Zaroff, (Eric Etebari), who also fancies himself a hunter. If you know anything about the original story, you know pretty much everything that happens next. 

Suffice it to say, Rick and Anna soon find themselves running for their lives. Their relationship starts off on the wrong foot, but what are the odds that a man and woman spend an entire movie running around together and do not grow attracted to each other by the end? Rick goes back and forth between arrogant jerk and caring protector depending on the scene, while Anna is sometimes a damsel in distress and sometimes a cunning survivalist. It is a little annoying, but both actors handle the silliness, and overfamiliarity of the scenario, pretty well. 

Hennigan is especially entertaining. Unlike pretty much everything else in Never Leave Alive, he does not seem to take the plot overly seriously and just has fun with his role. He is pretty funny and his line readings make some of the dialogue scenes more entertaining than they would have been had he played them completely straight. I am very familiar with Hennigan from watching him wrestle for the last fifteen years. This is the first film I have seen him in and, based solely on this movie, I think he could have at least a small amount of success doing action/comedies. 

What surprised me the most is how closely this story follows the plot of The Most Dangerous Game. Most of the names are the same, as are a lot of the story beats. This is not a criticism at all. Its basic story gets used a lot because it is effective and it is used reasonably effectively here. 

One of the biggest issues with Never Leave Alive is that it never seemed like the heroes were in any real peril. Its version of Zaroff is not crazy or dangerous enough to seem like a threat. Ivan is kind of interesting, and has more depth than I would have expected from a secondary villain in an action movie. But Zaroff is disappointingly bland. The story itself is taken pretty seriously here. While I guess that works okay, I kept wanting the rest of the movie to be more in line with Hennigan’s mild goofiness. It probably would have been more fun that way. 

Unfortunately, the action itself is lacking, which is very problematic for an action movie. The action scenes struggle in terms of both choreography and intensity. There is a fight in the jungle between Rick and Ivan that is alright, if surprisingly low impact. But the big climactic fight is both awkward and anticlimactic. At that point in the movie, the characters should be very ready to kill each other. But that sense of hostility does not come across in the fight. The action scene with the most issues, however, is the shipwreck. That sequence was so difficult to follow due to confusing editing that it took me a couple of minutes to realize what had happened and which characters had survived. What should be an important moment in the film becomes a rushed mess. 

Indiana Jones Part 5??

Even so, Never Leave Alive is not without its charms. Director/producer/editor Steven Lamorte and writer J. Amanda Sabater tell a well-worn story competently enough. I kind of liked the old-school simplicity of the opening credits with blood, organs and skulls flashing on the screen. And John Hennigan shows that he has action and comedy chops. There is not quite enough here for me to actually recommend Never Leave Alive, but I will not exactly warn you away from it, either. 

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-Ben Pivoz