I love me a good violent action movie; the bloodier the better. I like to see heads explode, limbs blown off, all the good stuff. Sure, a little story doesn’t hurt, just so long as it doesn’t get in the way. Give me a few good actors (hell, they don’t even have to be that good), and a reasonable excuse to have them fight, and the rest should take care of itself. I’m simple that way, and so is The Tournament, an ultra-violent shoot-em-up that’s so bloody it should come packaged with a mop.
And, to me, that's a good thing!
Every seven years, thirty of the world’s best assassins gather in a predetermined city and take part in an elimination match in which the last man standing goes home with a cool $10 million big ones. The Tournament is run by a shadowy underground gambling group run by Powers (Liam Cunningham), who MCs the event from a top secret location where the gambling elite view all of the action on a state of the art monitoring system.
This year, Powers has something special planned for his customers: the return of Joshua Harlow (Ving Rhames), the last tournament’s winner. Harlow has been lured out of retirement following the death of his pregnant wife at the hands of one of his competitive brethren, and decides to make an encore appearance to find and kill whichever one of them was responsible.
Meanwhile, Father Joseph MacAvoy (Robert Carlyle) finds himself an unwilling participant, when he unknowingly ingests another competitor’s tracking device and, as a bit of a goof, is included in the tournament as a long shot bet. MacAvoy finds himself an ally in the guilt-ridden Lai Lai Zhen (Kelly Hu); the assassin who murdered Harlow’s wife and unborn child. Lai Lai saves MacAvoy from the countless other assassins who are tracking him, and, in exchange, the washed-up priest may very well save Lai Lai’s soul.
The debut feature from director, Scott Mann, The Tournament is a slick, surprisingly fun action flick with a mean streak a mile long. People don’t just die in this movie; oh no, they are obliterated. This is over-the-top violence for over-the-top violence’s sake, and I loved every second of it. Okay, maybe not every second. The attempts at pathos and drama are a bit misguided, and, while I certainly liked looking at Kelly Hu, I wish a little less time was spent on her somewhat derivative character and more was spent developing the other assassins, especially Ian Somerhalder’s Miles Slade. Somerhalder, best known as Boone of ‘Lost’ fame, is fantastic in the limited screen time he’s given, chewing the scenery as a truly psychotic redneck assassin who kills for the sheer fun of it. He’s laugh out loud funny, and truly embodies the extreme tendencies of the flick.
The action in this film is expertly choreographed, visceral stuff, with Mann wearing his inspirations on his sleeve. There’s the kinetic energy of Joe Carnahan, the bravura camera work of Guy Ritchie and a touch of the elegance of John Woo, but there’s also a distinctly original style evident here, and it’s one I can’t wait to see more of.
The Tournament comes to DVD courtesy of Genius/Weinstein, and features a solid widescreen transfer that boasts vivid colors and a crisp image. The 5.1 DTS surround track is really spot-on, with percussive bass, really well implemented spatial effects, and a nicely immersive mix all around. Sadly, the disc features nothing by way of film-specific extras, with only trailers for other Weinstein releases included.
The Tournament isn’t high art, but it is extremely entertaining, insanely violent (this is easily the goriest film I’ve seen this year), and a hell of a lot of fun. Sure, I had a few nits to pick with the flick, but, when one considers that this is a low-budget indie from a first time director, the problems I had with the film are positively minute. Action fans and gorehounds alike should definitely add this one to their short list, as The Tournament is a ballsy, bloody, and brutal battle royale that's destined to be a cult favorite.