Combustible Celluloid
With: Rebecca Romijn, Philip Winchester, Jerry O'Connell, Michael Johnston, Isabel Bassett, Chris Fisher, Brenda Ngeso, George Glenn Ouma
Written by: Isabel Bassett, M.J. Bassett, based on a story by Paul Chronnell
Directed by: M.J. Bassett
MPAA Rating: R for language, some violence and bloody images
Running Time: 101
Date: 05/28/2021

Endangered Species (2021)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Hyena Jacking

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Sunny and well-meaning but too ridiculous to really work, the tone-deaf family-bonding safari adventure Endangered Species is a landrover packed with frustrating characters, poor choices, and cheap-looking CGI animals.

Lauren Halsey (Rebecca Romijn) and her family arrive in Kenya for a long-dreamed-of safari. Her husband Jack (Philip Winchester) has secretly lost his job and is concerned about money. Son Noah (Michael Johnston), daughter Zoe (Isabel Bassett), and Zoe's free-spirited boyfriend Billy (Chris Fisher) are along as well. They meet Mitch (Jerry O'Connell), who warns them of elephant poachers.

Trying to cut costs, Jack decides to go on the safari without a guide, drives through the gate without checking in, and then drives off the main trail. The family stops to photograph a mama rhino, who then charges the vehicle to protect her baby. The vehicle smashed, their water spilled, and the diabetic Lauren's insulin ruined, the injured, lost family must now survive a savage wilderness in general and a pack of hungry hyenas in particular.

Endangered Species seems to have gambled its emotional arc on the redemption of the father character, Jack. The problem is that he is so aggravating and despicable from the outset that it would take far longer than 101 minutes to really forgive him. He's immediately established as a weaselly oil company man, whiny and yet arrogant, and it's not long before we learn that he has a problem with his son's homosexuality. He also hates his daughter Zoe's boyfriend. Zoe, for her part, has taken to calling him by his name rather than "Dad," out of a lack of respect, and it's easy to agree with her.

Their predicament is entirely Jack's fault, due to his bad choices (no guide, failing to check in at the gate, going off-road, etc.). Other obvious plot elements, such as bringing along glass bottles of water that can be easily broken, not enough insulin for Lauren, etc., are further confounding.

Then, O'Connell overacts in a role that ought to be more menacing than it is, and the entire movie has a strange, quasi-comic tone, with the vague, off-putting feeling that we're supposed to be laughing from time to time. Perhaps the worst thing in Endangered Species are the fake-looking animals, but one exception is a beautiful bit of footage (not filmed for this movie) of a leopard rousing itself from sleep that may be worth the price of admission by itself.

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