Ben (Jeremy Irvine) has a job guiding tourists and hunters through the Mojave desert, but it's not paying very well, and his lack of funds are concerning him when it appears he may be on the brink of losing his college student girlfriend Laina (Hanna Mangan Lawrence). But life must go on, and as he muses over his nearly lost love, he has a new tourist to take care of, a billionaire named Madec (Michael Douglas) who wishes to go on a hunting trip in the wilderness for a couple of days' trek. Ben obviously has a lot on his mind, and Madec doesn't appear to be anything but an entitled rich guy who is chummy when he wants to be, but most of the time makes it plain he is in charge - yet an accident ahead may amplify those tensions.
It was Most Dangerous Game territory once again for Beyond the Reach, sort of a two man variation on The Naked Prey as well, the whole notion of one man hunting another for sport being a potent one in thrillers and suspense pieces, though this had a different pedigree, based on a novel called Deathwatch by Robb White. White had also made films, most notably his scripts for William Castle shockers which enjoyed a strong cult following, but he liked to pen adventure books as well, of which this was an example. It had been made into a film before, a television movie of the week at least, called Savages in that incarnation where Andy Griffith played the murderous tycoon, cast against type in a manner you couldn’t really say Douglas was here.
The star carried so much cinematic baggage that from the second he showed up on screen you just knew he was going to turn nasty sooner or later, and you would be correct in that assumption, but that was part of the entertainment. What happens is that Madec bribes the cash-starved Ben to allow him to hunt bigger game than he has a permit for, believing that his fortune can buy him any single thing he wants, but so eager is he to shoot something that he accidentally kills an old hermit who lives out there in the middle of nowhere. Ben is horrified, he knew this man and feels responsible for the tragedy, but Madec is more keen to, yes, buy himself out of the situation so makes up some story which will exonerate him and allow him to go on with his deals selling American industry to the Chinese, which the film makes clear is how he has made so much money. However, Ben's conscience finally won't allow him to fib.
Which places his life in danger when Madec, inspired by an anecdote Ben told him about a family who perished out in the desert after exposure to the harsh conditions, forces him at gunpoint to take a long walk in the sun to die himself. He also demands the young man strip to his underwear to better suffer the heat, which sees Irvine wander about shirtless for the greater part of the movie, should that float your boat. Though there is not much boat floating going on here, as Ben realises he needs water and Madec is going to do his darnedest to prevent that, with the result that the anticipated battle of wits proves very entertaining in spite of its relative familiarity, or perhaps because of it, whatever, director Jean-Baptiste Léonetti worked up a neat tone of desperation for both leads.
That said, unless you're some kind of reptile you will be backing Ben all the way, just as you support Jerry against Tom or more pertinently the Road Runner against Wile E. Coyote should you be watching a cartoon, which at times Beyond the Reach resembled with its caricatured baddie and explosions in the desert. No doubt about it, in this telling screenwriter Stephen Susco had something to say about how the one percenters were treating the ninety-nine percenters, positing Madec as everything villainous about what huge reserves of cash can bring about in the owners' personalities. The antagonist here believes he can use as much money as he needs to do whatever he wants, and that includes killing people then getting away with it; whether he does or not you'd have to watch and find out, but that was where the film faltered. Reaching a potentially provocative finale that would leave most of the audience righteously angry, they copped out and provided the clichéd conclusion that seemed out of character for everyone there. Until then, pretty good. Music by Dickon Hinchcliffe.
[Chelsea Film's DVD has a making of featurette and the trailer as extras.]