Sunday, December 21, 2008

BENJI THE HUNTED: The Jack Sack Movie Review

Let's get one thing straight, I've got anger issues. I get impatient for little or no reason. To say I'm irritable is an understatement. I enjoy yelling at people. Most people are jerks. Sure, I've probably yelled at some nice people along the way, but you can't make an omelette without cracking some eggs, yes?

But for all my anger towards mankind, I possess an equally powerful love of the animal kingdom. I get really fucking weepy at movies involving animals in dramatic situations. A couple of years ago, I saw "Two Brothers" a movie about a pair of tiger cubs who happened to be born of the same mother (hence their titular reference). And about a half-hour into the movie, things got ruff for the cubs, so much so that I had to get up and walk out. That's right, I walked out of the movie because the cute, fuzzy cubs were in distress. It was a kids movie and I couldn't make it through the first-half of the show.

So, earlier today WPIX was playing "Benji the Hunted" (1987)- a movie about a small-breed mutt with a really big heart. And a really big set of cojones too. The movie starts out with Benji finding himself stranded in the wilderness. He happens to come across a hunter who shoots a cougar, orphaning her four cougar cubs. Benji decides to involve himself with these orphans, despite the obvious risk to his own safety from predators in the wild. The next 70 minutes or so involve Benji trying to keep the cubs out of danger (unfortunately one of the cubs doesn't fare that well).

Like other great action-movie heroes, Benji improvises a lot. He's resourceful, gutsy and deep-down maybe a little crazy. You could say that Benji is a dog-version of Mel Gibson's character from the "Lethal Weapon" movie series. You see, Benji has no family in this one. He's stranded, kind of a dog-drifter going through the motions of life. But upon seeing those cougar cubs, Benji finds a new purpose in life. He becomes single-minded in protecting these cats. And by the movie's end, when he succeeds in reunited the cubs with their mother (this part of the movie was unclear, we were led to believe the mother was killed in the opening, so the cougar at the end could be their Aunt Doris) Benji asks for no reward. Nor does he want to become a member of the cougar population (I mean these movies have to retain some credibility!). Benji is just doing his job. And damn, if he doesn't lose many a night's sleep over the one cub that didn't make it. We like our heroes tortured- Bauer loses his wife, Benji loses cougar cub #4 to a bird of prey.

And that's where the brilliance of "Benji the Hunted" exists- it has adopted the best conventions of other '80's action movies to the animal-adventure genre without suffering from their faults. The advantage this movie has is that it's a completely cinematic experience. There's hardly any dialogue in this film. 90% of the action takes place with barks, growls and yelps going off. The movie's plot is engrossing without any maudlin declarations of love or devotion. There is no plucky sidekick making wisecracks. And not once does Benji grumble "I'm gettin' too old for this shit."

I'm not saying this is the best movie of the last 20 years. It's not even on the top 300 movies of the last 20 years. But it's a unique genre of films that I personally find fascinating. I mean, they had a cougar and a small-breed dog interacting with one another in the same frame! And how did they get the wolf to play an asshole so convincingly? If you find yourself nodding along while reading this review, go watch "Benji the Hunted" and see a real action star earning your adoration.

3 comments:

Rickey Henderson said...

How is it that we get sucked into watching the SAME EXACT MOVIES? That dog was pure dynamite--the McGuyver of the dog world.

Adam said...

That's fucking awesome! You watched Benji too! He's a compelling little mutt, isn't he? You're right, the way he outsmarted the wolf was pure MacGuyver. Wolves are serious business, I honestly thought the cubs were done for until Benjo pulled a WWE move and bodyslammed the wolf by jumping off the ledge. And the wolf's death... tragic but necessary.

I would like to see a buddy movie with Benji and Baxter, Ron Burgundy's dog from "Anchorman." Those two could put the Big 3 automakers back on track within 90 minutes, methinks.

Rickey Henderson said...

What really stuck with Rickey was the emotions that the animals conveyed despite having no lines whatsoever (as opposed to those Homeward Bound movies where they talk). Rickey thought it was very impressive that the film conveyed so much through the animals' actions, the direction, and the score.

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