ASSASSINATION GAMES (2010)
Rating: 2.5 out of 4
Tagline: Twice the fire... Double the power
Directed by: Ernie Barbarash
Starring: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Scott Adkins, Ivan Kaye
THE PLAN: Two rival killers forge an uncomfortable partnership when they realize they're going after the same target, a ruthless crime lord. However, for one it's strictly business; for the other, it's very personal.
THE KILL: A buddy-movie with bite and buckets of blood, ASSASSINATION GAMES is an old fashioned action thriller starring two of today's more reliable (and yes, old fashioned) ass-kickers. Jean-Claude Van Damme and Scott Adkins have appeared together four times (by my count), and they make an imposing, if not exactly jolly, team. (You never saw two guys look more pissed off.) If the pairing poses the issue of two men who are, more or less, similar types - there isn't a "funny one" to offset the grumpy one - director Ernie Barbarash inserts them into a familiar and reliable story that is well suited to their talents.
Shot in Bucharest, Romania (which is like Europe's Vancouver when it comes to the amount of films made there), film takes these two glowering leads and pits them against each other in a showdown of master assassins: JCVD is Brazil, a cold-blooded hitman who rakes in a ton pulling off impossible hits. But like most of the world's best killers-for-hire, Brazil lives a sullen, lonely life; he's got the money but no one to share it with. Poor Brazil, he seems like such a blast to hang out with. Meanwhile, Adkins' Flint is a semi-retired assassin who used to work for Interpol, but has since kept things on the down-low after his wife got knocked into a coma by a super-sleazy drug kingpin named Polo (Ivan Kaye). The Interpol agents who used Flint like an attack dog are fearful that he'll rat on them, so they release Polo from prison as bait to lure the man out of hiding, knowing Flint will want to drop the bastard ASAP.
There's Nowhere to Run from Jean-Claude's old-timey pistols!
Only problem, for all parties involved, is that our man Brazil wants Polo dead as well, thanks to a contract on the gangster's head. Almost comically, Flint and Brazil attempt to take down Polo at the exact same time, of course resulting in neither man finding success. Well, Brazil gets a kill shot in, but it's Polo's brother who takes the hit, which further complicates things now that he's out for revenge. Shit's hard out here in Bucharest.
It's up to Flint and Brazil to team up, grudgingly; the better to multiply their chances against an angry polo and squad of crooked Interpol agents. These two aren't exactly charmers in the best of circumstances, and their first true meeting is a brief but heavy-duty brawl. Neither man is a complete brute, however. JCVD plays violin, owns a turtle that he can't coax out of its shell (a clumsy metaphor at work, methinks) and eventually attempts to open his heart to an abused hooker that lives next door. Adkins mostly just stares at his comatose wife in silent fits of anger. Dammit, why were these men of action cursed with godforsaken feelings?!
Adkins blows them away with flatulence before going in for the kill
But overall, our boys can't give in to their lighter sides, and ASSASSINATION GAMES shares some of the cold-bloodedness of its characters; any "compassion" it shows is window dressing. Its real reason for being is its brutality - this is a cynical, pessimistic movie that paints almost every character in a dark light, and the only release is when someone heinous gets murdered. That's nothing new for a movie of this type (certainly nothing new for a movie set in Bucharest), but Barbarash's dim view of humanity and the lives of his characters can be pretty oppressive. You don't even want to know how Brazil's doomed-from-the-start friendship with the prostitute next door ends.
That noted, the film is certainly well orchestrated enough to be considered adequate DTV entertainment. The action sequences are competent, but there aren't many; most of the action is limited to shots fired and shots dodged, as guns are the movie's primary co-stars. There's even a surprisingly limited amount of hand-to-hand combat. Perhaps Van Damme wasn't feeling up to showing off his old acrobatics, but the man doesn't get much high-kicking in outside of his short bout with Adkins, who is similarly restrained from getting too physical. The movie lets their snarls and weapons kick asses for them.
TOP ACTION:The mano a mano moment between Van Damme and Adkins is definitely the sequence you'll be waiting for. (Spoiler alert: it turns out to be a draw.)
TOP DEATH:JCVD is good in the kitchen; he's able to toss a giant knife one across one and plant it in a dude's head.
TOP DIALOGUE: Jean-Claude mournfully relays, "I'm a weapon. I go where I'm pointed.
HOMOEROTIC MOMENT If the idea of a tied-up, shirtless Scott Adkins getting tortured Mel-Gibson-in-Lethal-Weapon-style appeals to you, then you'll have a homoerotic moment watching that scene.
FEMALE EXPLOITATION: JVD's friendly hooker neighbor would definitely be worth asking for some sugar.
DRINKING GAME: If you drink every time you think either Jean-Claude or Adkins is being double-crossed, you'll have assassinated a bottle or two before the film's finished.
TRIVIA: Van Damme's son, Kristopher Van Varenberg, has a supporting role as a dirty police officer.
HIGHLANDER director Russell Mulcahy was once attached to direct.