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“INTO THE GRIZZLY MAZE” (Movie Review)

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The surprisingly big-name cast does more for INTO THE GRIZZLY MAZE than it does for them, but they do help elevate this standard-issue animal-attack flick a couple of notches above the norm.

First, though, one has to wonder whether the scheduling of the movie’s limited theatrical release today (it has already been available on VOD) is some kind of gag tie-in to the debut of TED 2, whose bear protagonist earns his R rating in a different way. Second, a word about the title: a “grizzly maze” is a natural habitat where those predators roam, but that’s an obscure enough term to make its repeated use in the dialogue seem like a running gag, or perhaps a drinking game.

Venturing into this film’s particular grizzly maze is a bad idea, since one of its big, furry inhabitants has started killing off humans who encroach on its territory, including nasty poachers and “bootleg loggers.” Considering that the bear is interrupting all this illegal activity, it’s not surprising that local cop Beckett (Thomas Jane) wants to solve the problem by some other means than killing it. At the same time, he also has to deal with the return to town of his estranged, just-out-of-jail brother Rowan (James Marsden), who no sooner returns home than he gets into trouble involving the local floozy, which not only reignites his conflict with Beckett but allows for a bit of gratuitous toplessness.

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Also part of the overqualified ensemble is Piper Perabo as Beckett’s naturalist wife Michelle, who is deaf, for no other discernable dramatic reason than to prevent her from hearing the grizzly when it starts getting close behind her. But then, very few people in the movie can sense this animal sneaking up on them either; even though everyone keeps saying it’s the biggest bear they’ve ever seen, it’s able to hide at the edges of the frame and suddenly pop out like Jason to do its gory work.

“You never met a bear like this before,” says a nerd-glassed Billy Bob Thornton in the Robert Shaw role of master tracker Douglass, who even gets a Quint-in-JAWS-esque backstory and further informs us that this grizzly is “not just territorial or hungry, he’s pissed off.” Douglass is repeatedly referred to by the other characters as “old man,” suggesting that the part was originally written for an actor of more advanced years than the 50something Thornton. Perhaps someone like Scott Glenn, who turns up here as the local sheriff and does his best to make INTO THE GRIZZLY MAZE not entirely like JAWS by immediately closing the trails when he learns of the hungry threat lurking in the trees.

Nonetheless, Guy Moshe and Jack Reher’s script soon falls into the time-tested formula of a small group heading out to stop the killer; someone gets injured, tragic past incidents are revealed and the movie becomes as much an adventure-thriller as a horror film, since there are few fatalities past the half-hour mark. Some of those attacks do get quite gory in the directorial hands of SAW V’s David Hackl, who does a proficient enough job; INTO THE GRIZZLY MAZE is never less than watchable, though Hackl doesn’t take full advantage of the handsome scenery and can’t muster much true dramatic interest in the potboiler plot. Similarly, the experienced actors assure that their roles are handled with professionalism, even as they’re not given much that’s fresh or exciting to play. The good news/bad news continues right through to the finale, which involves moments of scarily real bear-on-human action along with some truly awful digital FX. In the end, nature-on-the-rampage connoisseurs will likely come away feeling that the recent BACKWOODS did this kind of thing better with only a pair of imperiled characters.

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About the author
Michael Gingold

Michael Gingold has been a member of the FANGORIA team for the past three decades. After starting as a writer for the magazine in 1988, he came aboard as associate editor in 1990 and two years later moved up to managing editor. He now serves as editor-in-chief of the magazine while continuing to contribute numerous articles and reviews, as well as a contributing editor/writer for this website.

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