Combine “The Lion King,” “Cujo” and “Jaws the Revenge” and you get …
“Paws the Revenge”?
Wait. No. It’s “Beast” (R, 93 minutes, in theaters).
But “Paws the Revenge” would have been so much better.
Idris Elba plays a doctor vacationing with his two teenage daughters. That’s a scary enough thought, but it gets worse. Traveling in Africa, they and their friend-guide (Sharlto Copley) wind up the prey of a very large, very angry lion.
How large? When they discover the tabby’s footprint, it’s the size of Michigan.
OK, that’s an exaggeration. Just the Lower Peninsula of Michigan.
The lion is angry because it has lost its pride – not its sense of dignity, but the rest of the lions in its group. A band of poachers slaughters them for profit, and the ticked-off surviving feline responds by slaughtering them, and then an entire village. Next on the menu: good doctor Nate Samuels, daughters Meredith (Iyana Halley) and Norah (Leah Jeffries), and family pal Uncle Martin (no apparent relation to “My Favorite Martian”).
They wind up stuck in a Jeep that’s crashed, stalled out, and is now hanging precariously off of a rocky ridge. Meanwhile, the lion prowls about, occasionally smashing into the Jeep like a punk rocker slam-dancing his way into a mosh pit.
This leaves us to watch and wonder whether anyone is going to get eaten. (My money was on likable Uncle Martin; yours likely will be, too.) Meanwhile, Dad says to Meredith (or “Mer,” as she insists) and Norah things like “It will be all right” (yeah, really comforting, Padre) and “Stay here, OK?” when he’s about to go off and put himself in danger. The teens unintentionally, but obnoxiously, make the situation worse, whether by not staying put, driving poorly, or bringing up family issues when, really, it’s not exactly a convenient time for that. No wonder Nate and Uncle Martin occasionally put themselves in harm’s way just for a little short-lived solitude.
Pretty much every turn is intended to jack up the tension. But it’s hard to get too riled up when everything is so contrived (even the doc’s recurring dream about his now deceased, formerly estranged wife is heavy-handed). You do wonder how Icelandic director Baltasar Kormakur (“Adrift,” “2 Guns”) will end this thing, but the finale, clearly intended to be clever, is eye-rollingly awful.
It’s a shame actors like Elba and Copley are in something like “Beast.” But they must have known that they were walking into a cinematic lion’s den. *½ (out of four)
** Click here for Tim Miller’s previous movie columns for Cape Cod Wave **
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Tim Miller is a Cape-based member of the Boston Society of Film Critics. He also teaches film and journalism at Cape Cod Community College in West Barnstable. You can contact Tim at [email protected] or follow him onTwitter @TimMillerCritic. Or you can ignore him completely.