Action franchises have always required a combination of intense action and likable characters to find their audiences. Fans of action films might be picky, but a few cool stunts and fight sequences can win them over. It makes sense that Quibi, the new short-episode streaming service, could benefit from embracing the genre. Pulled from everyone’s favorite middle-school short story, “Most Dangerous Game” receives an update from Nick Santora & Gordon Gray. Despite a fun turn from two-time Oscar-winning actor Christoph Waltz, “Most Dangerous Game” does not offer anything unique. Instead, “Most Dangerous Game” comes off as frustrating and surprisingly boring action-thriller.
Following the basic premise of the popular short by Richard Connell, the Quibi original follows Dodge Maynard (Liam Hemsworth). A former track star at Michigan, Dodge struggles as a businessman and expects his first child with his wife (Sarah Gadon). After Dodge receives a shocking diagnosis, Dodge’s best friend (Zach Cherry) will not let him give up. That’s when Dodge gets an offer to become the hunted from businessman Miles Sellers (Waltz). For every hour that Dodge stays alive, he earns more money that can clear his debt and set up his family for life. If he makes it 24-hours, he gets to walk away free.
Despite drawing from the well-known source material, “Most Dangerous Game” spends a surprising amount of time on exposition. Compounded with the short chapter runtimes that Quibi requires, “Most Dangerous Game” finds itself in an awkward position. Framing itself as a “Movie in Chapters,” the individual chapters feels disorganized and often retread similar information. While the showrunners attempt to build out the backstory for Hemsworth, its difficult to say that this effort benefits the audience. The shortened episodes undercut the small moments that build character. This leads to an odd tone that makes the story feel rushed, yet unnecessary. Overcomplicating the straightforward premise grinds the action to a halt.
For Hemsworth, “Most Dangerous Game” provides him with a chance to become a superstar. However, the episodes provided to critics never showcases the action setpieces that will make or break the series. Instead, we wallow in the backstory for far too many episodes. This does not suit Hemsworth’s skillset, who has proven charming and exciting when given the opportunity. “Most Dangerous Game” forces him into a box of depression and hopelessness. “Most Dangerous Game” does not live up to his best work, and the overly dour plotline does Hemsworth a few favors.
Waltz continues to show his eccentric side, allowing him to bring energy into the episodes. His performance brings out the seriousness of his questions to Hemsworth, but his general attitude provides hope to the situation. He adds a sense of belief and regret to the material that frustrations that Hemsworth experiences. Because its Waltz, there’s still a level of menace and potential deception running beneath his performance. Whether intentional or not, it allows Waltz to become a sparkplug to invigorating the story while also creating a question about where his allegiances lie.
The frustrations and commentary revolving around class imbue “Most Dangerous Game” with grander storytelling ambitions. Despite this, the actual analysis of the class issues feels fairly surface level. Not unlike “The Purge,” the actual commentary ends at the poor are put down by the rich. By all accounts within the story, the Dodge character came from nowhere to achieve greatness, only to have that greatness taken from him. “Most Dangerous Game” trades out the exotic setting of an island for the urban city, but the episodes given to critics do little to justify the change. Small changes might yield a more progressive or analytical retelling of this story, but “Most Dangerous Game” seems to have sought potential star power to bring audiences to the platform.
While “Most Dangerous Game” stumbles out of the gate, the action setpieces could reinvigorate the premise. Left on a cliffhanger after a handful of episodes, the Quibi format requires little commitment to getting through the exposition and setup. If the action lives up to the premise, then “Most Dangerous Game” might find itself an interesting new streaming model. However, the early returns provide little reason to expect subtle or nuanced storytelling. Despite a fun Waltz and decent camerawork, “Most Dangerous Game” needs to add more thrills to live up to its title.