(director/writer: M. J. Bassett; screenwriters: story by Paul Chronell/Isabel Bassett; cinematographer: Brendan Barnes; editor: Andrew MacRitchie; music: Scott Shields; cast: Rebecca Romijn (Lauren Halsey), Philip Winchester (Jack Halsey), Chris Fisher (Billy Mason), Jerry O’Connell (Mitch Hanover), Michael Johnston (Noah Halsey), Isabel Bassett (Zoe Halsey), Brenda Ngeso (Ndiliswa), George Glenn Ouma (Charlie); Runtime: 101; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Jay Taylor/Kwesi Dickson/Molly Hassell/M. J. Bassett; A Lionsgate release; 2021-Kenya/USA)

“Tacky misfire.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Brit filmmaker M. J. Bassett (“Rogue”/”Solomon Kane”) helms this tacky misfire, a crude low budget animal survival thriller filmed with cheap looking CGI animals and a sincere message against poaching that’s poorly delivered. It’s a dumb story of Ugly Americans learning life lessons about endangered species while vacationing in Kenya and visiting its national wildlife preserve. It’s based on a clunky story by Paul Chronell, and is written by the father and daughter Bassetts (M.J. and Isabel).

The American couple, the Type A grouchy and arrogant Exxon executive Jack Halsey (Philip Winchester), who hasn’t told his family he just lost his job and therefore would have preferred a cheaper vacation on a beach, but his diabetic wife Lauren (Rebecca Romijn) views the safari trip as her dream vacation. The couple take their obnoxious young adult children (the openly gay son Noah- Michael Johnston & the bratty headstrong daughter from his wife’s first marriage (hubby died when she was a child), an apologist for her white privilege, Zoe-Isabel Bassett), on the African safari. Zoe brings along her annoying older free-spirit hippie boyfriend, Billy Mason (Chris Fisher)–who does not make a connection with her conservative stepdad.

From the onset of the trip, the family can’t stop quarreling–with the whiny oilman dad getting the brunt of the criticism for being a bad parent.

While Jack insists on cutting costs, the result is they’re left alone at the wildlife preserve after not signing in at the entrance gate and taking the not recommended unguided tour. As their safari van stops to take a photo of a rhino, the beast charges and the van is flipped over, leaving them injured, bewildered and in big trouble (left in an isolated hot spot with no guide, water, weapon  or cell). They need help, so Noah and Billy, the two strongest, leave the others in the sweltering heat to go in search of help, which turns out to be a bad idea as one of the groups has to stave off a bloody encounter with a sleeping leopard just awakened and the others take shelter in the van but a clan of active hyenas soon confront them.

This film might even be too absurd for cable’s late night viewers. But it was earnest in its views against poaching (Jerry O’Connell, the real-life husband of Romijn, plays a poacher at the national park encountered by the family).

At least the clumsy film was scenic and meant well, but I’m afraid some will find it entertaining for all the wrong reasons.

Endangered Species