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Review: The Tournament

By  · Published on October 20th, 2009

The ideal action film contains more than just kick ass combat and carnage… it should also have a smart script and characters that make us care whether or not they survive or end up with a grenade shoved up their ass. But as with most ideals the films that accomplish all that can be counted on two or three hands. That short list would include flicks like Die Hard, Lethal Weapon (1 & 2), Terminator (1 & 2), and all three Bourne movies. The best we can hope for in most cases though is an extremely high degree of ridiculousness, one-note characters, and non-stop action scenes that shock and awe us into glee-filled submission. Welcome to The Tournament

Every seven years thirty of the world’s best assassins descend upon an unsuspecting small town and spend the next twenty-four hours trying to kill each other. The last hit-man (or hit-woman) standing receives a $10 million cash prize and the title of King Shit until the next contest. Overseeing the mayhem is a group of shadowy billionaires (are there any other kind?) who watch the entire tournament on a wall of monitors in a smoke-filled room and place wagers on the players. The town’s phone lines have been re-routed to prevent calls to the authorities, security cameras have been hacked, and the assassins all have trackers surgically implanted under the skin so the tournament’s organizers can follow them and so they can see their opponents. This year’s contestant pool contains a motley crew of charismatic assassins (again, are there any other kind?) including a Chinese huntress with a mysterious motive, a previous champion returning to settle a personal vendetta, a Frenchman who’d rather parkour his way around town than walk, an American psychopath who shows how evil he is by killing a dog, a bearded Russian as comfortable with heavy weapons as he is with his martial arts skills, and a priest who accidentally gets drawn into the game after ingesting a discarded tracker. It’s a cross between Battle Royale and Smokin’ Aces but is that a bad thing?

First off, this is an absolutely ridiculous movie with plot holes big enough to fit both of Gerard Butler’s thighs through. Because seriously… a great assassin shouldn’t need the prize money, so why enter a contest with such slim odds of survival? And if they’re all such great assassins, why are they all such shitty shots? And were the guns all purchased from an eighties action store where the models never run out of ammo? If most of the top assassins in the world die every seven years would you really have thirty more experts in the field by the time of the next tournament? People don’t go cold immediately after dying, so why do the trackers tied to a body’s warmth die as soon as the person does? Wouldn’t trackers paired to a person’s pulse make more sense? Once the other players realize someone has gained a distinct advantage by cutting out their own tracking device, why isn’t anyone else smart enough to follow suit? I appreciate that they kept Kelly Hu’s beautiful face mostly unmarked from cuts, bruises, and scars, but for all the merciless beatings she takes shouldn’t she have looked a little worse for wear? Can you really move a grenade away from you by shooting it? Is Ving Rhames a Terminator? The dude is shot, stabbed, and blown up but keeps on going…

Now that we’ve acknowledged a partial list of just how illogical, implausible, and plain stupid it is at times… how’s the action? I’m glad you asked, because the action is pretty goddamn sweet and the only reason you should need for wanting to see the movie. It may only be an hour and a half long, but you’ll rarely go more than a few minutes without someone punching, stabbing, choking, chasing, or shooting someone else in spectacular fashion. People talk about movies filled with non-stop action, but The Tournament comes closer to making that statement true than most other films. It opens with a shootout capped off with a shotgun blast to the head, moves on to a hotel room fight between Hu and a British assassin who gets his fingers cut off before being shot in the head, moves on to a double-tap in the streets of the small town with one guy getting sniped and another gal getting her neck snapped, moves on to a brawl in a church involving shotguns, hand-to-hand combat, and grenades… and so on and so on.

Writer/director Scott Mann has assembled a pretty interesting cast for his little film too. Kelly Hu and her stunt double hold their own in multiple fight scenes. Scott Adkins impresses with his acrobatic skills and martial arts. (Ninja needs to come out sooner rather than later.) Ian Somerhalder plays over-the-top wacko with cold-hearted abandon. (Killing a dog is bad enough, but blowing away innocent strippers just crosses the line pal.) Sebastien Foucan’s leap onto a moving bus is pretty sweet, and while I don’t pretend to understand the motivation behind some of his more extraneous parkour moves I have to admit I’m entertained watching them. (Robert Fure may not agree.) Ving Rhames does manage to sleepwalk through his role as the assassin searching for his wife’s killer though, and the less said about Robert Carlyle as the alcoholic priest caught in the middle the better. It feels like he just rolled out of bed and showed up on set with his sole direction being “play it scruffy and confused!”

For as silly as the movie is it deserves some credit for the limited character development and unpredictability it does achieve. You may not be surprised by who wins the contest, but the past action one character reveals along the way is pretty unconventional for generic action thrillers. And while Mann’s screenplay bypasses all sense of logic he barely gives you time to pause long enough to question it. Once the movie’s over though it’s all fair game, and I guarantee you’ll have at least as many questions as I do. But that’s for later… right now you should just be enjoying the damn movie for martial arts fighting, bloody squibs, exploding bodies, bus combat, a blood-soaked strip-club shootout, parkour(!), and Kelly Hu’s curves.

The Upside: Crazy mix of quality action scenes including martial arts, gun fights, and vehicular homicide; very bloody including multiple exploding bodies; oodles of fun; Kelly Hu is still damn attractive

The Downside: Highly implausible and plenty of plot holes; Hu doesn’t pop out of a pool naked and whip her back in slow motion

On the Side: The production actually ran out of money at one point and had to shut down. By the time new investors were found they had to start from scratch again with new actors. A trailer was floating around online showing many familiar scenes with completely different faces, but it’s apparently been pulled by the wily Weinsteins.

Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he's so damn young. He's our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists 'Broadcast News' as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.