A combination of crackling humor, convivial camaraderie and concussive action, Rogue ranked among 2020’s best VOD films. As a merc forced to beat a retreat from an escaped, abused lion and equally bloodthirsty human traffickers, Megan Fox channeled her real life’s constant churn of opportunistic predators into convincing onscreen badassery. Plus, there was just enough social context to carry the film through, well, quite visible budgetary limitations whenever that lion was onscreen.
Like Rogue before it, Endangered Species (which hits VOD services Friday) is a family jam from director / co-writer M.J. Bassett (Cinemax’s Strike Back) and her co-writing / co-starring daughter, Isabel. It wants you to walk away with a similarly rigorous understanding of Africa’s poaching problem and its global supply chain of complicity — a topic clearly near and dear to their hearts. It also boasts enjoyably gruesome scenes of wild animals pouncing on people.
What Endangered Species lacks is even a scintilla of Rogue’s bite force, as it (very, very slowly) unspools the story of a craven Californian family that stumbles down a slippery slope of poor decisions while vacationing in Africa. There’s something to be said for the protagonists’ eventual epiphanies amounting to realizations that they are all indeed huge-time assholes. Plus, their general antagonism toward one another when the chips are down is also mildly amusing, stopping just short of sarcastic clapping during such zesty shit-talk exchanges as:
“Did it hit the femoral?”
“No. If it hit the femoral, you’d be dead by now.”
“(That idea) is not as dumb as it sounds.”
“I’m sorry. Did that sound dumb?”
But Endangered Species generally feels like the Bassetts decided to spend a couple more months in Africa after finishing Rogue, banged out a thin script, persuaded Rogue co-star Philip Winchester to stick around, and called spouses Rebecca Romijn and Jerry O’Connell to join up.
Jack (Winchester) and Lauren Halsey (Romijn) want one last big family vacation before daughter Zoe (Isabel Bassett) goes off to college. So it’s off to Africa for a safari adventure. In tow are high-schooler son Noah (Michael Johnston) and, to Jack and Lauren’s chagrin, Billy (Chris Fisher), Zoe’s older slacktivist / druggie boyfriend. If Jack’s nerves during the flight seem as turbulent as the air above this arid land, it’s because he’s facing termination from his big-oil executive position after a pipeline project gone bad — something his family doesn’t know.
So Jack is no longer able to afford the posh safari experience he promised Lauren, as eager to get her rhino as Jenko was to get his Lambo in 22 Jump Street. But pride finds Jack unwilling to disappoint Lauren. So Jack decides to give the Halsey clan a “gosh darn safari” with no respect for nature, animals or safety, driving unattended into areas clearly marked as unsafe. Naturally, the Halseys get caught between a cute baby rhino at which they’re gawking … and its protective parent, which makes quick work of their van’s engine (and some flesh and bone).
Stranded in the desert, the Halseys start setting breaks, tightening tourniquets and recalling what they can of all those Naked and Afraid episodes. But Lauren’s blood sugar is acting up and oh golly gee the rhino broke her medicine vials! At least they have water, right? Nope, Billy shamed Jack into glass-bottled water over plastic. Also shattered. So it becomes a race against time — and hungry big cats, nagging hyenas and the Halseys’ own dysfunctions — to survive.
In essentially a glorified cameo, O’Connell is Mitch Hanover, another American who eventually comes to the Halseys’ aid. No points to you for spotting Mitch’s true colors or to the Bassetts for neglecting to set up him as a character before making him a locus of third-act tension.
Look, Rogue was hardly subtle. But the ecological messaging of Endangered Species is an after-school special by comparison. Noah and Billy interrupt their regularly scheduled desperation to find help with an earnest, but clumsily scripted, screed about how everyone is at fault for Africa’s exploitation. Meanwhile, Zoe breaks out convenient and klutzy statistics about rhino poaching. As true as the indictments are, they leach all of the relentless, unpredictable energy that powered Rogue, leaving little more than boring diatribes in bottle-episode scenarios. (The yeesh-worthy conclusion also suggests money can indeed solve all problems.)
“Adventure begins early,” Lauren says as the Halsey kids complain about a dawn-breaking start to their day. At least that’s still true of Rogue.