Written by: Adam Vaughn | May 28th, 2021
Endangered Species (M.J. Bassett, 2021) 1½ out of 4 stars.
Disappointment is the best word to use when describing the newest film by M.J. Basset (Inside Man: Most Wanted). I absolutely looked forward to the concept of a high-stakes thriller, set against the gorgeous backdrop of the African plains, with up-to-date scenes of digitally crafted animals. But Bassett chooses not to focus on these objects, despite their promise and potentially great aesthetics. Instead, Endangered Species is muddied with unnecessary family drama, confused writing, and a less than desirable visual style.
Endangered Species begins as a wealthy, but somewhat dysfunctional, family takes a relaxing vacation in the African savanna, embarking on a safari journey into the wild. When the father (Phillip Winchester, Rogue) decides to go off the beaten trail, things go from bad to worse as the family is thrashed by deadly wildlife … as well as the more human threats that lurk out in the open. With a mother (Rebecca Romijn, Satanic Panic) suffering from diabetic withdrawal, and multiple injuries accruing, the family must survive both hungry wild animals and illegal poachers who’ll do anything to keep their business booming.
What really disappoints about Endangered Species is its inability to embrace its own premise. Director Bassett is caught up in repetitive scenes of uninspired strife between family members that annoy and confuse the viewer. For reasons unexplained, characters such as the daughter (Isabel Bassett, also in Rogue, and daughter of M.J.) choose to use their time stranded in the hostile savanna to (thoroughly) discuss identity issues, whether mom and dad have been too hard as parents, and other things that really don’t seem appropriate given the scenario, and come across as filler dialogue trying to develop each character at awkward times. On top of having convenient plot holes and ridiculous character choices, the overall writing ruins the experience at multiple moments.
My biggest hope for Endangered Species was being able to see some primal scene of humans vs. nature, and have the family combat various creatures of the wild with intense violence and action. However, the final cuts of VFX animals are rather unconvincing and do more to kick the audience out of the story than pull them in. With the small exception of a few tense moments (the jaguar scene in the tree is the best), most of the animal encounters fail to captivate, and some even unintentionally cross the line into comedy.
Overall, Endangered Species ignores its potential to thrill and compel the viewer, and confuses various ideas and concepts, with little attention to the promised premise. This is even before the introduction to the poachers and their (somewhat) vile leader Mitch Hanover (Jerry O’Connell, Ballbuster), which only succeeds in further complicating the plotline as a social commentary out of nowhere. Sadly, there’s too much content being thrown around in Endangered Species to make it any more than a fleeting moment in time.