Thursday, September 22, 2016

The Tournament

   Imagine one of the craziest action movies you've never seen, with enough shootouts, kung-fu, and parkour to fill at least a few Bourne outings, and give Daniel Craig's Bond a run for his money. But, you've never seen it because the movie doesn't have a Matt Damon, or a Daniel Craig. It's full of character actors who're usually only ever playing supporting roles. Ving Rhames (Pulp Fiction, Con Air), Kelly Hu (X2: X-Men United), and Sébastien Foucan (Casino Royale). Why this movie hasn't picked up a massive cult following within the action subset of movie nerds is absolutely baffling. It's bloody awesome.

   The Tournament came out in 2009, and feels like a true old school shoot-em-up flick. It's got car chases, shootouts, fist fights, and way more exploding bodies than you might think. The best part? Near as I can tell, it's all done with classic practical effects. Every squib looks legit, not digital. The movie is a bloodbath from top to bottom. It's full of guts and gore, and that's how I like my action movies. With as much blood as your average torture porn flick. People have often compared The Tournament to a little-known 90's flick called Mean Guns. This is fair, and I get the comparison, but people usually use the comparison to show that Mean Guns is better. I disagree.

   I liked Mean Guns, don't get me wrong. Christopher Lambert, Ice-T, a dozen z-listers and hundreds of guns? What's not to like? Well, for one, the director of Mean Guns is like... anti-blood. If it wasn't for the swearing, I'm convinced Mean Guns would've been PG-13. People get eviscerated with every kind of gun you could get your hands on, and there's no blood. What? Already that's a major point to The Tournament. The cast is better too. Granted, there's no leading man like Lambert in this movie, but it's a very bloody movie, and I dig that shit. Secondly, Mean Guns was obsessed with a salsa/mambo soundtrack. That did NOT work for me. I get what they were going for, but I hated the soundtrack. The Tournament has a fairly standard action movie soundtrack, but at least it's not salsa or mambo.

   The Tournament also boasts a more diverse cast. Aside from Ving Rhames, Kelly Hu, Liam Cunningham (Game of Thrones), and Sébastien Foucan, the movie also has Ian Somerhalder as a psychopathic Texan, and Scott Adkins as a Lundgren-esque Russian assassin. How great is that? The movie's plot actually revolves around a washed up priest, Father MacAvoy, (Robert Carlyle) who gets sucked into this annual assassin's tournament where 30 of the world's best killers compete for a massive cash prize and bragging rights of being the best. The story is nothing fancy, but the central concept is really neat. Most action movies leave you with lingering questions about the chaos and carnage the movie has left in it's wake. The Tournament explains that in this case, there's a clean up crew and misinformation in the media.

   A terrorist attack? An accident on the freeway? A tenement fire? It just might have been this tournament instead. But the public would never know. Clever, no? I thought so. It's pretty neat. Anyways, the movie is a lot of fun and it's energetic on an insane level. Every main character is given a chance to shine and to showcase their ability. If you wanted to see more of Sébastien Foucan's mad freerunning skills, this is the movie to pick up. Unfortunately Scott Adkins doesn't get much screentime, but a little bit goes a long way in his case. He was pretty great regardless. Ving Rhames is always portrayed as a badass, but in this movie he's in the thick of it, kicking ass and taking names. Despite all that, it's Kelly Hu who stole the show in my opinion.

   Not only is she fantastic in all the action scenes, holding her own against Adkins, Foucan, and others, she's also a really good actress and her dynamic with Father MacAvoy evolves into a really solid emotional core for the movie. One I didn't expect. The plot at large is pretty predictable though, and there's a late third act twist I saw coming from the first ten minutes. I have a feeling that the filmmakers weren't really trying to hide it though. Which I think was a good move. Movies that actively try to have complex plots riding on the back of a premise that's best played out with simplicity tend to be obnoxious, confusing, and ultimately boring. The Tournament is none of those things. It entertains with laser sighted efficiency.

   I can see where a bigger budget would've given it a better shot at being more well known, maybe a better-known lead, and some bigger names for more peripheral roles. This is the kind of movie I'd have loved to have seen Don Johnson or Jeff Fahey in. To say nothing of Danny Trejo and Michelle Rodriguez. Hell, any one or all of Robert Rodriguez's go-to actors. But, as is, it's still a blast, and there's enough familiar faces that I'm baffled this didn't pick up more fans. The movie is stylish, but not in a John Woo way, more in a Paul Greengrass or Martin Campbell way. Some shaky cam early on was a bit worrisome, but it was not a continual problem. I think the editing was a bit haphazard in some areas as well, but still. The movie is a blast.

   I can't remember the last time I saw an action movie so relentlessly entertaining and gleefully bloody. The Tournament might not be high brow cinema, but it's not stupid either. It takes a really cool concept and runs wild with it. For action lovers, this is nirvana. I can only imagine that it's box art is what's doomed it to obscurity. It looks like every other goddamn direct-to-video movie with B and Z list actors in it. At a glance, this movie would look like shelf-filler. The kind of crap nobody would rent from Red Box. But, it's not. It's a really competent and exciting action flick. From 'go' it's almost non-stop bullets, blood, explosions, punching, kicking, and crashing. I loved it.

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