Every Seven Years The World's Greatest Assassins Gather... Only One Will Survive
Back of DVD:
Every seven years, thirty of the world's most deadly assassins face off against one another for an outrageous cash prize. There's only one rule: kill or die. As dozens of wealthy gamblers watch via closed-circuit TV, a city is overrun by brutal assassins - all aiming to be the last one standing. Starring Ving Rhames (Mission Impossible films), Kelly Hu (X2: X-Men United) and Robert Carlyle (Stargate: Universe), The Tournament is an explosive, action-loaded thriller where the winner takes all.
This was another of those movies that I had not heard of until I saw it staring back at me on the shelf at my local DVD emporium. It had that look of direct-to-DVD action that I love to much, and recognisable names such as Robert Carlyle who I had been watching in Stargate: Universe and Ving Rhames who turns up everywhere, most notably in Pulp Fiction and the first Undisputed.
The premise for The Tournament is quite simple, and certainly not original, but who cares about that. Every seven years the worlds best assassins compete for a million dollar cash prize by trying to kill each other in an open tournament arena of a major city. We start at the end of the last Tournament in Brazil with Ving Rhames the last of three assassins squaring off in a meat locker. One is injured and on the ground, the other is a crazy guy shooting at them both with a machine gun. Rhames sick of being shot at gives the guy the slip, sneaks around the back and slides along a blood puddle right under the crazy guys nose and blows his head off with a shotgun in a gory display that, if this were a game of Quake, I would describe as a total gib fest (a recurring theme for this movie). He is much more civilised to the other bloke, giving him a last cigarette before shooting him in the head. Rhames is declared the winner.
Seven years later and The Tournament is on again. A girl gets off a train (tournament entrant Lai Lai Zhen, played by Kelly Hu) and, guided by an address on a business card, goes to a motel. When she arrives at her room she finds a bottle of red liquid marked only with "9pm" on it. Right on time she downs the red liquid then falls unconscious. If you entered a motel room and found a jar that said "drink me" would you actually do it? Or would you think "hmm, someone is trying to drug me" and pour it down the sink? Perhaps send it to the front desk and ask for police assistance? Strange, really. Lai Lai has visions during her sleep of doctors performing crude surgery on her and implanting a device. When she awakens there is a scar on her hip where something has been implanted. She pretty much deserved that in my opinion.
Robert Carlyle plays a drunk priest. He has pretty much one expression in the whole movie; "What the Christ (pun intended) is going on?" Seriously, it never changes. He's a down on his luck priest who gets kicked out of a bar and goes in search for food and coffee. At a cafe he gets a greasy breakfast down him and looks for coffee. An athletic Frenchman exits the bathroom having just performed crude surgery (there it is again) on himself to remove an implant. He flicks the device into the air and it lands in the coffee pot. You can see where this is going - Priest Carlyle gets his cup of coffee and ingests the device. Oh dear.
Elsewhere in a darkened room filled with gamblers and a large pile of cash on the table, Powers (Liam Cunningham), the host of The Tournament is taking his patrons through the contestant list. There are 30 contestants, and they have 24 hours.. "to kill.. OR DIE". Only one man or woman will survive and be declared the victor. The cliched gamblers (fat oil tycoon Texan, wealthy German businessman, etc.) proceed to place their bets, and the even more cliched geeky IT guys take control of the city's CCT system using a glorious Hollywood OS. Their screens blip with excitement as the first confirmed confrontation is underway. In her hotel, Lai Lai Zhen gets attacked by a guy pretending to be the porter. The fights in The Tournament are consistently brutal and that's the best part about it. They aren't quite Ninja Assassin over-the-top, but the gore factor is pretty high. Lai Lai kicks the guys arse and cuts his fingers off with piano wire, then shoots him in the forehead. Awesome.
The Frenchman, Anton, is now able to move freely without being tracked (those implants were trackers). Anton (Sebastien Foucan) moves like another Frenchman I know, Leito (David Belle) from Luc Besson actioner Banlieue 13. Check that clip out if you haven't seen that movie, it's fantastic. He follows the same 'free running' technique as he bolts along the roof tops of the London scenery. All the entrants have their own tracker displays so they can see where the other combatants are, and one combatant, a female sniper, as she is about to take shot at what seems to be the now trackable Priest Robert Carlyle gets her neck snapped by Anton. The shot goes off and hits another combatant anyway, so that's good. The Priest takes shelter in a nearby church and, with that expression on his face that I talked about earlier, prays for a miracle.
At this very point Lai Lai smashes in to take out her next hit when she discovers that it's the priest and he is not defending himself. He begs to live and at that moment I'm very happy to say Scott Adkins makes a short appearance as another assassin. He even has his Undisputed II & III beard! He has some amazing fast kicks and at one point tries to drown Lai Lai in the holy water, but after a distraction from the Priest, Lai Lai breaks free, drops a grenade down Adkins pants and blows him to smithereens. I really love the gore in this, haha!
Basically we have a combination of Battle Royale and Ninja Assassin - contestants killing each other off whilst Lai Lai protects the unwilling participant, Priest Robert Carlyle (Father MacAvoy if you're interested), from getting killed - with a dash of The Running Man's "evil corporation" vibe. Most of the players in The Tournament are here for the money, but there is one who is here because he just likes killing - the American entrant Miles Slade (Ian Somerhalder) who is a serial nut job that kills his dog for fun and cuts his victims fingers off with a cigar cutter. Ving Rhames is in this years contest again and he finds out from another contestant that Miles was responsible for killing his wife; so we get a good revenge subplot there too.
There is a lot to love about The Tournament. It's fast and fun, with great violence and black humour, mostly coming from the deaths of the combatants. I don't want to give any of them away but I will reveal that one of the other roles the tracking implants plays is that of a detonator. If there is no winner by the end of the 24 hours - or if the host of the show simply deems it - the devices explode like intestinators. Look out for the scene in the petrol station, it's hilarious.
Some modern action movies don't deliver, but when they are forced to go DTV, they just seem to. That's the case here again. Denied a US cinema release (though it did get a small run in the UK where it was filmed), The Tournament is a great action movie with car chases, tanker truck explosions, nightclub strippers, guns akimbo and much more, despite its recycled plot and comedy relief Priest. Well and truly worth your time.
As you would expect, the presentation here is excellent. The modern look of the movie comes across well on my R4 16:9 enhanced DVD, and the 5.1 soundtrack does justice to the millions of gunshots and explosions (well, almost millions).
eBay for $10.