2021, R, 101 min. Directed by M.J. Bassett. Starring Rebecca Romijn, Philip Winchester, Isabel Bassett, Michael Johnston, Chris Fisher, Jerry O'Connell, Brenda Ngeso, George Glenn Ouma.
REVIEWED By Richard Whittaker, Fri., May 28, 2021
It's a rare joy in a movie when the clearly disaster-bound characters are so obnoxious and dumb that, whatever their fate, their inevitable series of unfortunate incidents is completely self-inflicted. Thus lies the fate of the Halsey family, under flailing oil exec Jack (Winchester) and his stay-at-home wife, Lauren (Romijn), who gave up on her narratively handy medical career, when they head to Kenya on an overpriced vacation. Of course they're on a safari, and of course something goes wrong and they end up being mauled and pursued by the local wildlife. Rounding out the bourgeois snack pack are Ivy League dropout daughter Zoe (Bassett) and her hipster-hippie boyfriend Billy (Fisher) – think a slightly dumber, spoiled, and less introspective version of Hayley and Jeff from American Dad! – and gay football star son, Noah (Johnston). All of them are liabilities in an emergency, as when they are harassed by a succession of poorly CGI-animated animals who barely interact with them. Not that they really need additional threats because, after half an hour of being awful and rich, they break into a safari park in Kenya, get their van flipped by a rhino, and make spectacularly poor choices that seemingly ensure someone is ending up consumed, impaled, or crushed. Sometimes all three. At least it's a break from their constant bickering. After all, what kind of "rich white folks in trouble" plot would it be if this whole affair wasn't just background noise while they sort out their issues?
If there's a moral, it's that entitlement is a killer, which is only slightly what the filmmakers were aiming for. There's a lot of sanctimonious lecturing about how the oil industry is worse than poachers (delivered by O'Connell as a visiting westerner who may as well just wear a "I <3 Stolen Rhino Horn" T-shirt), and a meandering plot about the family coming together through adversity – well, the ones that don't get slightly eaten.
It's not that Endangered Species isn't made with good intentions, because its story of the classic ugly Americans learning important lessons about the eponymous endangered wildlife of East Africa is undoubtedly well-meaning. Unfortunately, it's also graceless and predictable, with absolutely no surprises between the start of the family's off-road adventure and their inevitable rescue by park rangers. If anything, there's at least a little comedy to be found in the telegraphed action beats (not to harp on the Seth Green comparisons, but there is one jump scare that is timed exactly like a Family Guy cutaway gag). Hyenas turn up to menace them with narratively convenient timing, and O'Connell's horn-stealing scumbag gets the comeuppance you'll see coming from his introduction. Honestly, considering that Endangered Species is intended to raise awareness about rhino poaching, you're probably better off sending what you would have spent on rental to a reputable conservation charity.
Available on VOD now.