They say that money makes the world go ’round, and not only do dollars rule the world of John Madec (Michael Douglas), but they define him. The statement he makes driving into a small southwest town behind the wheel of the ostentatious $500,000 Mercedes G-63 six-wheel truck speaks for itself. But for all the fancy trappings he carries around, including an imported Austrian rifle, it would be a mistake to underestimate John. He likes to kill animals and he’s good at it. With elephants and rhinos already up on his wall, he has arrived to be taken into the desert to add a bighorn sheep to his collection. It might be a bit early in the season, but it’s nothing that slipping a few dollars to local law enforcement won’t solve. Yet John soon learns that a big billfold won’t always get him everything he wants.
To guide him into the dangerous vastness of the Mojave Desert, John is paired up with small-town deputy Ben (Jeremy Irvine), and he too shouldn’t be underestimated. His youthful appearance doesn’t suggest someone with a lot of experience in one of nature’s most unforgiving environments, but he knows the area like the back of his hand. From the start, he’s a bit wary of John. The tycoon’s expensive ride, high-tech gear and brash personality are off-putting, and Ben isn’t quite sure what to make about a man who is taking the time to hunt while a deal worth over a hundred million dollars with a company in China waits to be closed. But the pair forge an employer/employee relationship, cemented by Ben’s reluctant acceptance of a bribe when he challenges John to show him his hunting permit, and they get to the task at hand. When John accidentally shoots and kills an old mountain man, the differences between the pair become quite clear.
A panicked John, fearing the news of this accident getting out and kiboshing his business deal, persuades Ben to hide the body in exchange for more cash and college tuition. The young man goes along with the idea…until he spies a chance to call for help. Big mistake. John has no more time for risks, so he orders Ben to strip and march into the desert, where the scorching heat and lack of shade and water can kill a man in hours. The quick-thinking John will figure out a cover story later for Ben’s death. But for now, he needs him dead.
Directed with efficiency initially by Jean-Baptiste Léonetti (“Carré blanc“), there is something in “Beyond The Reach” that goes beyond your average (mostly) single setting thriller. The themes of economic disparity, generational gaps and the plain thrills of the dance between and a hunter and his prey makes the film seem Hitchcock-ian, right down the final twist. But alas, Léonetti is no Hitchcock, and for a movie that rides on a well-executed, modest and at times playful B-movie engine, the film stumbles in its final third, with goofy plotting (don’t be surprised when a gun from the opening scenes of the movie pops up again) and a turn from the subdued to the hysterical.
The latter observation relates to John. His plan to kill Ben without using his own gun reflects the kind of businessman he is: unsympathetic and looking out for his own interest. It’s cold and cruel, but John doesn’t see offing Ben as a particular joy so much as a grim reality. But somewhere along the way, Douglas starts hamming it up, as the script has John pouring himself cold mixed drinks, sitting back in a lawn chair and listening to Mozart’s Piano Concerto Number 22 as he spies whatever Ben is doing trying to survive through his binoculars. And he also suddenly abandon his own plans to keep himself free of culpability in Ben’s death by trying to shoot him or dynamite him at various points. Any sly message about the quietly efficient, lethal ruthlessness of the contemporary capitalist is immediately undermined by the movie just becoming another rote thriller.
And that’s where “Beyond The Reach” winds up. It’s after the characters leave the desert that the movie has no idea what to do with them, and the conclusion seems taken from a completely different film. Indeed, just like John’s predicament, money couldn’t have saved “Beyond The Reach,” but maybe a bit more time figuring out the right story would’ve been a better investment. [C]