The latest entry in the evergreen nature horror genre (Jaws, Arachnophobia, Piranha), David Hackl's Into the Grizzly Maze -- not to be confused with the similarly named and -themed Grizzly, from 1976 -- is steeped in clichés, has a healthy dose of unintentional humor, and builds toward a nail-biting climax. The film is centered on the forced reconciliation of brothers Rowan (James Marsden) and Beckett (Thomas Jane) as they battle a murderous grizzly in the Alaskan wilderness. Rowan, fresh from a prison stint, shows up unannounced in the brothers' small Alaska hometown, where Beckett is now an environmentally conscious cop.
Rowan's run-in with a local pimp brings the brothers face to face for the first time in years; mutual contempt keeps Rowan from sharing his true reason for returning. Some bloody, expertly wrought plot twists later find the brothers — a wife and former girlfriend in tow -- on the run through a sprawling forest from a bear that is racking up a body count. The film gives lip service to reasons for the bear's fury -- manmade ecological damage -- but no explanation for its strategic brilliance. Between run-ins with the bear and a callous but wise hunter (Billy Bob Thornton), Rowan's exculpatory backstory unfolds in hackneyed dialogue. (The script is by Guy Moshe and J.R. Reher.) What keeps Maze humming is Hackl's firm sense of narrative tension. He knows character and dialogue are icing in films like this, so it's taut pacing, editing, and sound design that are crucial. (The actors are all fine, playing everything straight, sans irony.) The final showdown is ludicrous and thrilling -- as it should be.