Film / Reviews

'Beyond The Reach': Desert thriller runs dry on substance

by Kaori Shoji

Special To The Japan Times

I couldn’t stop thinking about sunscreen during the first two minutes of “Beyond the Reach.” After 15 minutes I was trying to conjure up images of polar ice caps and northern lights. This is what happens when fragile people like me are overexposed to UV rays, even when they are cinematic. The sight of bone-dry water containers on film make me panic, so after a little flailing, all I wanted to do was crawl out of the theater to find the nearest drinks machine.

“Beyond the Reach” isn’t exactly quality filmmaking but it does at least hammer home some good summer advice: Never leave home without a bottle of water and always slather yourself with sunscreen of at least SPF 50. Because you never know — you may find yourself stranded in the desert with nothing but a psychotic billionaire intent on watching you perish.

Set in the Mojave Desert in California, this movie makes frequent allusions to the location’s unforgiving climate (even though most of it was actually filmed in Farmington, New Mexico). The temperature can reach 55 degrees Celsius, there’s no shade in sight and, without water, a person could die in as little as 60 minutes. None of this is news to Ben (Jeremy Irvine), a desert guide who has lived in these parts most of his life and supposedly knows the Mojave like a favorite T-shirt. But he is compelled to explain it all to a rich hunter who rolls in from the city in a $500,000 customized SUV, equipped with espresso machine and martini blender. This is John Madec, a financier played with spot-on white-male entitlement by Michael Douglas — and as a man who gets whatever he wants, he is not impressed with the mundane. He shows Ben another toy: an Austrian rifle with a scope made to his exact specs. It’s to hunt bighorn sheep, an endangered species — and Madec has already bribed the local sheriff so that he can do this.

Beyond The Reach (Tsuigekisha)
Rating
Run Time 91 mins
Language English
Opens MAY 14

Ben is poor and preoccupied by the fact his girlfriend is leaving for college, and Madec is one exceptionally bored billionaire. Yet somehow, rich old man and poor young man seem to make a connection (they’re both Pixar fans, apparently) before, of course, things go awry. Firing away at sheep suddenly doesn’t seem entertaining anymore, especially when there’s something more exciting to hunt.

When Madec points the rifle at Ben, he orders him to strip down to his underwear and start running under the blazing sun. The plan is to watch Ben die, either from heat stroke or dehydration — whichever comes first.

Madec becomes something like The Jackal, only he’s a lot wealthier, and Douglas really makes the billionaire thing look easy. (No doubt he can do this in his sleep.) His portrayal of a villainous rich guy is at once hilarious and sinister, all the more so when you realize that he actually resembles a certain Republican presidential candidate. “Beyond The Reach” was released in the U.S. in 2014 when that candidate was but a whisper in the wind. But two years later, Madec’s inane and cliched one-liners now sound unnervingly familiar, if not scarily prophetic of current U.S. primary campaigns.

“Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, you’re dead!” yells Madec when he’s raging mad — a perfect match for Donald Trump’s line when his harsh campaign tone was questioned: “It’s medieval times, there is no time for tone!”

However, this is not the foresight of French director Jean-Baptiste Leonetti. “Beyond the Reach” is based on the 1972 novel “Deathwatch,” which was also used as the basis for the 1974 television film “Savages.” It seems as if audiences like their movie billionaires to be cliched scumbags.

Having said that, the movie would have benefited from being more of a social commentary on class injustice but, as it stands, it’s simply a relentlessly brutal chase through a parched landscape that does little more than remind us that California is in the midst of its worst drought in something like six centuries.