Endangered Species, 2021.
Directed by M.J. Bassett.
Starring Rebecca Romijn, Philip Winchester, Jerry O’Connell, Michael Johnston, Isabel Bassett, Chris Fisher, Brenda Ngeso, and George Glenn Ouma.
Jack Halsey takes his wife, their adult kids, and a friend for a dream vacation in Kenya. But as they venture off alone into a wilderness park, their safari van is flipped over by an angry rhino, leaving them injured and desperate. Then, as two of them go in search of rescue, a bloody, vicious encounter with a leopard and a clan of hyenas incites a desperate fight for survival.
I will give co-writer and director M.J. Bassett this regarding Endangered Species: she and her daughter Isabel Bassett (she shares a screenwriting credit and has a starring role) are passionate about protecting animals. They aren’t making these cautionary wildlife tales (the filmmaker also released Rogue last year, which saw a military group led by Megan Fox of all people picked apart by a tiger) as an excuse to go on vacation as many others would. The end credits make clear she deeply cares about endangered animals, thanking anyone out there trying to make a difference. Still, that doesn’t mean the movie is any good. It’s far from that.
Chief among the problems is that due to a shoestring budget pathetically rendering hyenas, rhinos, and other majestic African beasts (in broad daylight for most of the running time nonetheless, which worsens the visuals) to where the sight of them is comical. As a result, the script spends a good portion falling back on generic family drama that seems determined to paint everyone as an asshole at some point before giving them a redemption arc. The family is comprised of lying, selfish, oilman dad Jack Halsey (Philip Winchester), his rebellious stepdaughter Zoe (Isabel Bassett) dating slightly older hippie stoner Billy Mason (Chris Fisher), gay son Noah (Michael Johnston), and diabetic wife Lauren (Rebecca Romijn, the only competent actor of the bunch although even she’s not that great here).
They are a dysfunctional bunch hoping a vacation to Kenya will prove to be the solution. Unfortunately, the mood quickly gets off to a bad start when Lauren discovers that Jack might lose his job and that the family might have to worry about money for the first time in their lives. Zoe doesn’t want to go to college and would prefer to find her own path. Noah is not interested in sports like his father wants him to be. While his father does appear to accept it, Jack misguidedly focuses on how homosexuality will make his son’s life more difficult than showing support.
Nevertheless, Jack decides to become incredibly frugal with his money, choosing not to pay for a wilderness tour. Worse, he chooses to drive the safari van right past the entrance while the guards are distracted by some poachers. He gets his family lost and inevitably attacked by animals only looking to protect their offspring. Again, because of the limited budget, the focus is on the family dynamic and not the animals, but the problem is that these people range from immensely unlikable to annoying aside from Lauren and Noah. They fight with one another (there’s a running bit where Zoe repeatedly opts to label her stepfather Jack instead of dad), apologize to one another, rinse and repeat.
Strangely, Endangered Species goes from making you wish death on these people to developing a sliver of sympathy (only a fragment considering all of these characters make incredibly dumb choices) for them. Of course, the compassion doesn’t come from their characterization, but rather the horrific violence inflicted on them, complete with some impressive makeup effects. After roughly an hour of going in circles, the film pits the family up against the poachers themselves, which is moderately more entertaining simply because the terrible CGI is gone. Crazed hunters convincing themselves that they are justified in murdering animals planning is to help out indigenous people provides a more palpable sense of danger, even if the ensuing action sequences are rote.
Accounting for bad acting, flimsy and forced plotting, boring family drama, shoddy special effects, and some bare minimum competent chases, quite literally the only thing Endangered Species has going forward is good intentions and the occasional breathtaking view. And even that feels somewhat shaky as it doesn’t really question if families poking around in the African wilderness for their amusement should be permissible in the first place. Sure, the poachers are evil bastards, but this family of idiots is only easier to root for by a smidge.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com