I’m a sucker for mindless action films. You put enough bullets and bombs into a ninety-minute spectacle and I’m more than happy to waste my time watching the fireballs. I won’t rake the director over the coals for a few plot holes or some stale characters as long as they substitute ass kicking and violence to spackle that in. The Tournament is one of those films that sits right on the edge, then tips gently into the positive zone. If you’re on the hunt for deep characterization, meaningful dialog, and a deeper understanding of the human condition – keep hunting. If you’re in the mood for people getting kicked in the face, rockets flying around screen and people blindly emptying magazine after magazine, well then, come on in.
Directed by newcomer Scott Mann, The Tournament revolves around the most recent competition between the worlds greatest assassins. Every seven years, the top hitters from around the world are drawn to a new location where they have a limited amount of time to kill each other. The last one standing pockets a cool $10 million and gets the title of World’s Best Assassin (looks great on the resume but lousy on your tax return). They also probably pick up a few more jobs, considering they’ve killed 29 of their biggest competitors.
Each assassin is embedder with a tracking device that doubles as a bomb, so no one can flee the area. The killers can always find each other via their handy PDAs. These little tracking devices cause the drama this year, as an exceptionally clever parkour assassin removes his and gets an unsuspecting and faithless priest named Joseph (Robert Carlyle) to swallow it.
Our Father, who aren’t in Heaven, now finds himself wrapped up a game of kill-or-be-killed. Joseph wouldn’t have made it six minutes if not for the killer with a bit of conscience, Lai Lai Zhen (Kelly Hu) who realizes he’s been tagged by mistake and stands by his side to protect him from certain death.
Complicating matters for everyone: the return of the only living champion. Joshua (Ving Rhames) enters the tournament as an unofficial contestant (we don’t need no stinkin’ application form) to track down and destroy the person who killed his pregnant wife. He’ll stop at nothing, spare no one, leave no cliche unturned, to find those responsible and separate their body parts into various zip codes.
One of the villainous assassins steals the show: Miles Slade “the Crazy Texan” (Ian Somerhalder) has several dozen clips worth of fun with the role. He dresses in white, with a flashy leather trenchcoat and a huge belt buckle, and takes great joy in murdering everyone, assassins or not. His over-the-top performance reaches it climax in the strip club scene.
Kelly Hu is effective as Lai Lai, though she was mostly cast for her ability to kick high and look really attractive. Robert Carlyle is always a great addition to any cast, though mostly he’s a tag-a-long here. His best acting (i.e. non-firearm) scenes are in the beginning, when he illustrates just how far his fatherly character has fallen (e.g., vomiting on a barkeep’s shoes).
Super-star martial artist and rising star Scott Adkins plays Yuri Petrov, an ex-Soviet Spetsnaz operator with a penchant for spin kicks and a deep not to say loving appreciation for grenades. Adkins is one of the most impressive fighter-actors working in the world today; it’s a shame his character only gets to be on screen for a single fight sequence. The hand-to-hand sequence really shines—in a dark sort of way.
There are weapons, and lots of ’em. Petrov and Miles both use pistol grip shotguns. Petrov’s is a beat up, unrecognizable model. Miles uses a Hatsan Escort Guard weapon. A no-name, quickly killed assassin has a sawn-off double barreled shotgun in a poor state of repair.
Ving Rhames’ Joshua favors a six-shot Taurus Model 44 chambered in .44 Magnum. Kelly Hu has a Walther P99, more apt for her small frame.
Much of the gun violence occurs in one big battle in a strip club, presented in an intense montage of shooting, dying, shooting and dying. Not to mention dying. And shooting. During these scenes guns appear and disappear quickly as their operators are killed. I spy with my little eye an HK MP5, Beretta 92s, a Steyr SSG 69, an FN Browning, a Mini Uzi, a mocked up Arsenal AR and an Arsenal Shipka machine pistol.
During the big gunfight between Kelly Hu and the free-running Bogart, the babe deploys her Walther and a Beretta. Bogart blasts bullets with twin Browning BDAs.
On the explosives front, Petrov tosses a handful of Soviet RGD-5 hand grenades while an unnamed assassin fires a LAW with imaginary rocket that can lock onto people and follow them. Yeah . . .
In terms of accuracy, the movie fails miserably for one major reason: it takes place in Great Britain. As we all know, the island nation’s gun bans mean that there are no firearms available to anyone for any price—unless they work for the police. And while Mark Burnett comes from and cut his reality TV show teeth in The Land of Hope and Glory, America is Gun Disneyland, god damn it. Leap of faith that.
The Tournament does somethings well and others rather poorly. For highly trained assassins, almost everyone seems content to fire one-handed or with two guns at once. You would think professional killers would have much better form. Still, it’s realistic in the sense that 97.4 percent of the shots fired are misses.
The bullets used in the opening sequence and the strip club scene appear to be low-velocity rounds; tables, chairs and napkins somehow stop 7.62 ammunition, as well as all handgun rounds. Save for the shotguns, of course, which remove limbs and send people hurtling end over end across the room.
Shooting people with big guns is a messy affair. The Tournament accurately reflects the violence of up-close bullet trauma. While a shotgun will not send you flying through the air, it will take a considerable portion of your head and use it to paint a wall. No extra charge.
If you’re squeamish or not a fan of blood and violence, you’ll definitely want to avoid The Tournament. In addition to the shotgun wounds, at least three people are blown up by their tracking devices. Splat.
The Tournament attempts to jazz up The Running Man shtick, sensibly avoiding Lycra but missing the cheesy perfection of Richard Dawson. Alternatively, The Tournament lacks the seriousness of Platoon AND misses out on the pure over the top action of Commando. Wait ’til rental.