They picked the wrong man to cross.
Wesley Snipes has churned out quite a few DTV films in recent years since his tax issues, though they have generally all been okay at best. The Marksman, Unstoppable, The Detonator.. all okay but nothing amazing. Chaos with Jason Statham was probably the best one with lot's of twists and decent action to boot. Undisputed went to cinema so doesn't count, but that's a really good one. His most recent effort is Game of Death; how does it fare?
Snipes plays Agent Marcus, a CIA agent given an undercover job to do. He's been instructed to get in good with Frank Smith (Robert Davi), a powerful but corrupt businessman, earn his trust then take him out. Six months later Agent Marcus has done just that and is the personal bodyguard to Smith. On a routine drive, Smith suffers a heart attack. As well as that the car is being followed on the ground and in the sky by Agent's Zander (Gary Daniels) and Floria (Zoe Bell). It's soon apparent that Zander and Bell have turned to the dark side as they kill the chopper pilot and infiltrate the hospital where Smith has been taken by Marcus.
At gunpoint, Zander and Floria demand that Smith and his treating nurse Rachel (Aunjanue Ellis) take them to the bank vault of wealthy business associate Redvale (Quinn Duffy). Snipe has no real love for Smith but he is determined to stop Zander and Floria from taking advantage of their undercover positions for their own financial gain. That, and they keep shooting at him. By the way the whole movie is told as a retrospective in a church by Snipes to priest Ernie Hudson.
I really enjoyed this one. I would go as far as to say this would be the best Wesley Snipes direct-to-video release so far. The plot wasn't overly ambitious - at it's heart this is a heist movie - and the acting was good across the board. More importantly the action quotient was solid, with equal amounts of shootouts (bringing back the silenced pistols was refreshing after a lot of machine gun shootout movies I've reviewed recently) to punchups. Snipes doesn't even actually have that many lines when it comes down to it. The movie is more interested in stealth action than constant babbling, which worked for me.
There's been a change of plan Marcus. We're taking the fucking money.
The only real downside I found was the usual frenetic directing that is so favourable these days. I've seen far worse but there was a lot of avid farts and scenes that go black and white for no real reason ("art"?) and some of the fights are shot too close, but not all of them. There's a couple of good kickfights and firefights that are easily seen and it's great to see that Snipes and Daniels still thrown down properly when given the opportunity. I guess also the retrospective way of telling this story could be seen as a downer, but it does let us see Ernie Hudson as a priest taking confession from Snipes which is fairly amusing. Hudson is always the fourth Ghostbuster to me.
Actually I was really surprised as to how much Gary Daniels features in this. He is the main bad guy but I was still expecting his role to be limited to ten minutes somehow. Gary probably has the same amount of screen time as Snipes. His portrayal of Zander the rogue CIA agent was cool, calm and ruthless - he shoots anyone that even looks sideways at him - and makes for a great bad guy. He also gets a pretty damned good final bout with Snipes on the top of a building that doesn't hold back any punches.
Equally good was Zoe Bell, best known for her stunt work in Kill Bill and then as a character actor in Death Proof. She has started getting decent roles in Bitch Slap, Gamer and her own starring vehicle Angel of Death. She put on an American accent for us in Game of Death which blended well with the others though after hearing her strong kiwi accent in Death Proof it came as a bit of a shock. Her best scene here is a standoff in the hospital with Snipes, both shooting at each other from behind walls as Bell explains to him the details of the plot as yet unrevealed.
This is a good one and worth your time. If all you had seen of recent Snipes work was 7 Seconds and The Contractor and wasn't convinced, I say give him another go. This is 85 solid minutes of entertainment with only a few minor drawbacks. I'm really hanging out for Snipe's Zombie action/western Gallowwalker which seemed to have been stuck in post-production hell for years, and even it's official website seems to be down now. Apparently it has had a DVD release in Scandinavia just last April so hopefully a more easily accessible DVD will eventuate shortly.
Sharp as a pin prick with lot's of colour, strong detail and deep blacks. High definition goodness filmed in scope. Runtime around 90 minutes.
Zone A blu-ray release from Amazon.