I struggled to start this review because Beyond The Reach divided me in a tonally confusing, strangely endearing kind of way. Director Jean-Baptiste Léonetti calls upon the blistering Mojave Desert heat in his adaptation of Robb White’s novel Deathwatch, but he also calls upon a goofy-as-hell Michael Douglas. Part of the film wants to be this badass “most dangerous game” reimagining, turning Douglas’ character into a comic-booky Bond villain, while another more reserved aspect thrives on exploiting an extremely human struggle between two obviously mismatched classes. It’s about the rich vs. the poor, not just man vs. man, but most importantly, it’s about a raging lunatic who looks like a Cabela’s poster child gone apeshit.
Michael Douglas plays Madec, a millionaire/billionaire businessman who loves hunting big game. Jeremy Irvine plays Ben, a local tracker who is pining over a girlfriend who just left for a more fruitful college life. Their paths cross when Madec wants to bag a Bighorn for his trophy wall, and Ben is called in to be his guide through the Mojave Desert. Things get hairy when Madec accidentally shoots a local recluse, and Ben wants to abide by the law. This doesn’t align with Madec’s selfish plans, and Ben soon finds himself running around the desert, trying to prevent his head from being blown clean off. What happens beyond the reach, stays beyond the reach – or so Madec hopes.
From the get-go, Ben and Madec are established as polar opposite character types. Ben is a soft-spoken, down-home boy who survives in the most minimal of fashions, while Madec is the king of pampered indulgences. Rolling up in a Mercedes Benz hunting jeep, complete with two extra wheels and a sealed back storage compartment, Madec goes on to brag about his super-powered Austrian rifle import, while Ben coyly snarks about locals only using good ol’ fashioned Winchesters. Ben plays by the rules, Madec runs wild and reckless. Ben cooks slop over a fire, Madec roasts a “civilized” dinner in his transport vehicle’s attached kitchen equipment. Léonetti highlights the drastic differences between his hunting party members, especially once money enters the equation. As if it isn’t obvious enough that Ben and Madec are from other planets, the wad of hundreds pulled from Madec’s front pocket does the trick.
It’s Douglas’ performance that steals Beyond The Reach, for better or worse. He’s a modern-day, white-collar psychopath, kind of how I’d picture Gordon Geckko acting outside of his Wall Street safety net, but he’s also a reckless goofball whose charm relies on drinking expresso produced from yet another hidden vehicle compartment (I think expresso? Not a morning caffeine guy). Douglas is a rank mixture of endearingly entertaining and audaciously distracting, and his motivations are evil for the sake of being evil. There’s a thematic undertone of money solving all our issues (no hunting permit, no problem), but at the same time, it’s also the root of all wrongdoing. Madec wants Ben dead simply because an arrest would turn his lucrative business deal completely sour, so humanity finds itself thrown completely out the door. I’m not saying these vile, greedy head-honchos don’t exist in real life, but the story is a tired, played out struggle with the energy of a carnival shooting gallery.
Jeremy Irvine combats Douglas’ tyrannical turn with a much more grounded, emotional take on Ben’s homely predicament. Despite one short exchange where Ben and Madec quote Wall-E together, Ben keeps a constant skepticism about Madec’s intentions. His lunacy is proven once Ben finds himself running about the desert in nothing but his skivvies, but Irvine finds much more success in character than Douglas manages. It’s inherently easy to root for Ben, mainly because of Stephen Susco’s hammish screenplay, but Irvine’s dehydrated deterioration becomes the one aspect of Beyond The Reach worth our time. But then things spiral out of control in the most calculated of ways.
The final few scenes of Beyond The Reach are a collection of ridiculousness and poor judicial management, starting with Ben’s single slingshot attempt. From here there’s nothing but a few scenes of laughable exploits, dumbfounded looks, and a befuddling ending that might wrap up Ben and Madec’s arc, but there’s a definite question as to why. It makes sense, don’t get me wrong, but it’s an added scene that’s more like a primped little bow to keep audiences in a safe story bubble where everything has a finite ending. Maybe it’ll work for you, but for me, it’s the most excepted and sour way for Beyond The Reach to go out.
For a film that deals with a desolate, scorching unknown, there sure are a lot of obvious plot notes along the way.