Surviving the Game

by Logan Gion

The Basics

Surviving the Game


Directed by Ernest R. Dickerson

Starring: Ice-T, Rutger Hauer, Gary Busey, F. Murray Abraham

Why is Surviving the Game considered “So Bad It’s Good”?

Nearly all ironically enjoyable movies require an element of sincerity at their respective cores. Someone making the film needs to believe that the content on which they’re working MUST be seen by the public. Then, that belief needs to be smothered under a pile of bad decisions. Surviving the Game boasts Ernest R. Dickerson as its director. Dickerson gained  clout because he was Spike Lee’s cinematographer on projects such as Do the Right Thing and Malcolm X. What’s more, Dickerson’s directing debut Juice was a solid “hood film” containing a competent acting debut from Tupac Shakur.

For his sophomore film, Dickerson decided to make a message movie about how America treats homeless people. This legitimately noble effort was then packaged into a movie starring Ice-T and marketed towards the 80’s action-movie crowd. The result is this:

This is the villain from "Blade Runner" dressed as a Russian priest being choked out by Ice-T wearing "homelessness camouflage." If you've seen the movie... yeah, it still doesn't make sense.

Why did you watch Surviving the Game now?

Back in February, my efforts to review–

Early 90’s



–were curtailed by outside circumstances. I’m playing catch-up now since my April theme was redundantly French.

Hence, this month is–

April NOT in Paris

Surviving the Game takes place in and around Seattle (yet strangely contains skyline shots from Philadelphia…), but Paris is never visited.

Okay, but how did you even hear about Surviving the Game?

I was attending my weekly writer’s group and telling them which films I was reviewing when a member softly gasped, unearthing some deeply repressed memory.

“You have to watch Surviving the Game,” he whispered. Before I could even ask what this movie was, the group leader flipped out. She, too, had a long-forgotten memory burble to the surface.

“I used to watch that during sleepovers as a kid!” She exclaimed, “That and The Legend of Billie Jean were, like, a standard double-feature!” Before I could even Google the flick, my writer friend promised he’d bring the DVD next week.

So that I wouldn’t have to suffer alone, I roped my friends with whom I watched Diana: The Musical into the mix, and we pressed play with trepidation…

What’s Surviving the Game about?

Jack Mason is a homeless man in Seattle whose only friends are a shattered war veteran and a mangy dog. When both of them die, Mason feels that he has nothing left to lose, and takes a predatory soup-kitchen recruiter up on a job offer.

After a bizarre meeting with his prospective boss (see above leopard photo), Mason flies out to the Northwestern wilderness to be a “guide” for some rich guys for the weekend. These rich guys have other plans–plans which include hunting Mason for sport. (That’s not a spoiler, by the way. These guests aren’t exactly subtle in their intentions.)

Intent on permanently sabotaging these classist jerks and their operation, Mason doubles back and torches their cabin. Now, low on resources, these wannabe alpha bros have a real fight on their hands. Bad news for them, Home Alone was still popular at the time, so Mason sets up traps for them, picking them off one at a time.

The boss of the group, however, has been craving a fight like this, and Jack Mason may be his most prized target yet.


What did you think of Surviving the Game?

I personally found the movie frustrating. Oftentimes too competent to be awful, Surviving the Game is, at its best, a mediocre/above-average macho action movie. The film is at home with cheesy lines and overblown deaths, yet cringes at itself for being that way. Conversely, scenes that are meant to BE ABOUT SOMETHING are treated with delicate care yet executed with the finesse of a stray dog who somehow stumbled into Westminster.

As stated before, I don’t think Ice-T is a good actor. I do think, however, he knows how to handle juiced-up action flicks. Any time the movie had him zipping across forests in an ATV or hanging onto a log in the middle of a raging river, my friends and I were having a blast. Any time the movie had him pondering the nature of loss opposite John C. McGinley, Dr. Cox from Scrubs, my friends and I wondered if we’d survive the runtime. (Side note: This is the second mid-’90s film I’ve recently watched in which McGinley plays a repentent racist. That’s a weird role in which to be repeatedly cast…)

Only in the final 20 minutes does Surviving the Game become the ludicrous dumpster fire I hoped it could be. Impossible close shaves, clunky spiritual metaphors, nonsensical character developments–this movie had it all! The 90-minute lead-up to the climax definitely had enjoyable moments, but seeing the gonzo conclusion made me irked that this movie wasn’t more consistently enjoyable.

Ultimately, there are better action movies, better message movies, and better hunt-a-human movies.


Surviving the Game Notable Quotables:

  • The sniveling son of indeterminable age with a conscience: “Oh no, Dad! I’m gonna faaaaaaaaaall!”
  • The psychologist’s (Gary Busey) monologue (that he wrote the night before and demanded the director put in the final cut) in which he kills his childhood dog…

Busey: …He was dead, not biting, not even breathing. I was covered with blood. I stood up, wiped the blood off, and licked it. Then my dad said: “Welcome to manhood!”

Ice-T: Do your patients know this story?

Busey: Nope. But you do.

  • Just dog metaphors in general in this movie. Jack Mason is treated like one because he’s homeless, but then a wild coyote recognizes Mason as one of its kind, so he is a dog?
  • Every shot in which Rutger Hauer’s character plays a priest (information not revealed until the final 20 minutes), the camera gives him purposeful red eye because he’s EEEEEVIL!
  • Faithful henchman’s legs being blown off of an exploding ATV.
  • The “bonding” scene where Ice -T reveals that he CHOOSES to be homeless because of guilt about his wife and daughter dying. Meanwhile, McGinley reveals that his daughter’s death made him want to hunt homeless people. Afterwards, the two men hold begrudging respect for each other. YAY! We fixed society!
  • Ice-T dumpster diving past whole, fresh produce to eat off a used cheeseburger wrapper.
  • Faithful henchman: “Stevie Wonder could follow these tracks!”
  • Busey: I like my meat RARE! 

Ice-T, after throwing Busey into a room that explodes: Try well done, bitch!

  • And, of course, “God’s still constipated.”

Who’s the audience?

  • Most-Dangerous-Game obsessives
  • The incredibly niche sect that demands both testosterone-fueled action and commentary about toxic masculinity in their entertainment
  • Billionaires in need of inspiration for their next company retreat

Where can I watch Surviving the Game?

You know what else is "must-see"?

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Note: Beginning in late March, I began a transformative yet energy-draining health procedure. I've had to take unexpected breaks from posting, so, unfortunately, I can't always get to everything I have planned. I'll do my best to keep it as accurate as possible.

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