Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
Sacha Baron Cohen Reportedly Returning To Write, Produce, Star In & Direct The Freddie Mercury Biopic Sacha Baron Cohen Reportedly Returning To Write, Produce, Star In & Direct The Freddie Mercury Biopic Watch: James Bond Is Back In First Trailer For 'Spectre' Starring Daniel Craig, Lea Seydoux, Dave Bautista, & More Watch: James Bond Is Back In First Trailer For 'Spectre' Starring Daniel Craig, Lea Seydoux, Dave Bautista, & More Terrence Malick's Next Film With Ryan Gosling, Rooney Mara & Michael Fassbender Reportedly Gets Titled Terrence Malick's Next Film With Ryan Gosling, Rooney Mara & Michael Fassbender Reportedly Gets Titled Watch: Jake Gyllenhaal Gets Bloody And Bruised In First Trailer For Boxing Drama 'Southpaw' Watch: Jake Gyllenhaal Gets Bloody And Bruised In First Trailer For Boxing Drama 'Southpaw' New Infographic Lays Out Canonical 'Star Wars' Timeline With Films, TV And Books New Infographic Lays Out Canonical 'Star Wars' Timeline With Films, TV And Books First Official Image: Jesse Eisenberg As Lex Luthor In 'Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice' First Official Image: Jesse Eisenberg As Lex Luthor In 'Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice' Watch: First Trailer For Arnold Schwarzenegger's Zombie Pic 'Maggie' With Abigail Breslin Watch: First Trailer For Arnold Schwarzenegger's Zombie Pic 'Maggie' With Abigail Breslin Idris Elba Replaces Jamie Foxx In Harmony Korine's 'The Trap,' Al Pacino, Robert Pattinson, James Franco Also Join Idris Elba Replaces Jamie Foxx In Harmony Korine's 'The Trap,' Al Pacino, Robert Pattinson, James Franco Also Join Watch: Explore The Loneliness Of Sofia Coppola's Films With This Supercut Watch: Explore The Loneliness Of Sofia Coppola's Films With This Supercut 10 Terrible Films Starring Great Actors 10 Terrible Films Starring Great Actors Watch: Tom Hanks Acts Out His Filmography In 7-Minutes On 'The Late Late Show' Watch: Tom Hanks Acts Out His Filmography In 7-Minutes On 'The Late Late Show' Watch: Trailer For 'Fifty Shades Of Grey' Unrated Blu-Ray Edition, Will Also Feature An Alternate Ending Watch: Trailer For 'Fifty Shades Of Grey' Unrated Blu-Ray Edition, Will Also Feature An Alternate Ending New Directors/New Films Review: Jia Zhang-ke Produced 'K' Is A New Take On Franz Kafka's 'The Castle' New Directors/New Films Review: Jia Zhang-ke Produced 'K' Is A New Take On Franz Kafka's 'The Castle' The 25 Best Animated Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 25 Best Animated Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 25 Best Films Of 2015 We've Already Seen The 25 Best Films Of 2015 We've Already Seen Best Of 2014: The 15 Best Movie Soundtracks Of 2014 Best Of 2014: The 15 Best Movie Soundtracks Of 2014 The 25 Best Horror Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 25 Best Horror Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season From Worst To Best: Ranking The Films Of Hayao Miyazaki From Worst To Best: Ranking The Films Of Hayao Miyazaki All The Songs In 'Pitch Perfect' Including La Roux, David Guetta, Azealia Banks, Nicki Minaj & More All The Songs In 'Pitch Perfect' Including La Roux, David Guetta, Azealia Banks, Nicki Minaj & More

Review: 'Assassination Games' Presents Direct-To-DVD Action On The Big Screen

The Playlist By Gabe Toro | The Playlist July 29, 2011 at 4:56AM

Inexplicably hustling into (limited) theaters this weekend is “Assassination Games,” a hitman actioner the likes of which you’ve seen before. Jean-Claude Van Damme is the big name attached, but the “star” is martial artist Scott Adkins. Together the two cinematic pugilists have been cutting a swath through the world of direct-to-DVD action, though Van Damme has dabbled in the mainstream a bit more as of late. So, to some, this is a momentous match-up.
4


Inexplicably hustling into (limited) theaters this weekend is “Assassination Games,” a hitman actioner the likes of which you’ve seen before. Jean-Claude Van Damme is the big name attached, but the “star” is martial artist Scott Adkins. Together the two cinematic pugilists have been cutting a swath through the world of direct-to-DVD action, though Van Damme has dabbled in the mainstream a bit more as of late. So, to some, this is a momentous match-up.

Adkins plays Roland Flint, a gun-for-hire who once witnessed his wife raped and beaten into a coma by a drug kingpin, one who seems less interested in his trade and more involved in who will bleed the most. He eventually learns that the villain is still on the market, with outside forces eagerly anticipating his downfall. Flint takes up the case motivated entirely by revenge, and in case you think this movie will be a thorough analysis of the aftereffects of revenge, think again: “Assassination Games” exists in that specific movie universe where revenge goes down like warm chicken soup.

Van Damme stars as Brazil, the laconic no-nonsense hitman who also receives the contract on our villain’s head. His morality is a bit harder to figure: Van Damme, who says more when he’s silent than when he attempts English, the deep crevasses on his face suggests a man who has fallen deep into routine. It feels autobiographical. The cash is too much to ignore, and Brazil soon finds himself headed to Bucharest, crossbow in hand. Of course, these two are being pitted against each other, a mysterious third party trying to pull the strings. Somehow, they never figured that our heroes would figure out they’re being manipulated, and after some lengthy fisticuffs, they pool their resources to trap and kill their quarry. To a point, this almost seems unfair: the enemy is a portly, out of shape thug who sends faceless minions into the battlefield. Van Damme still has that wiry physicality and speed, while Adkins, taller and meaner, seems cut from granite. Plus, crossbows.

But “Assassination Games” subverts expectations because it focuses not on the conflict, but on the inner turmoil of these two men. Though their characters unfortunately never rise above genre cliché, the film loads up on quiet moments, such as Brazil practicing the violin, or Flint by his wife’s bedside, allowing the actors to brood and emote. Flint is the more broken of the two, fueled by anger, and Adkins has a cruel Tom Buchanan-esque beauty to his physicality. Van Damme seems the most dead inside -- a subplot where he saves a local prostitute from her abusive pimp forces him to raise his fist, but not his voice. Again, he’s done this thousands of times.

Combined with the urine-yellow color scheme, the mood of “Assassination Games” is dour, even depressed. Though theoretically things should liven up when Flint and Brazil work together, Adkins is a simmering cauldron more than an explosion, while Van Damme is much older and low-key, providing a not-exactly-combustible combo. Director Ernie Barbarash, who has cut his teeth on a number of straight-to-DVD actioners, seems to love seeing the two of them quipping at each other, but neither is enough of a trained actor to bring an intensity stronger than the one at the table-read.

Barbarash has enough experience to know that words are useless when he has these two at his disposal. The project’s original title “Weapon” seemed more fitting -- both are less actors and more like special effects, and Barbarash shoots the action crisply and confidently. Both actors may as well be unstoppable supermen, but in editing the hand-to-hand sequences, Barbarash keeps the camera tight but in-focus, showcasing hands and feet moving at lightning speed against bodies too frail to survive another day of killing. The fight choreography doesn’t lift this effort above Van Damme’s usual direct-to-DVD offerings, but it does prove that there are still filmmakers who understand how to shoot action. [C]

This article is related to: Actors, Review, Jean-Claude Van Damme


The Playlist

The obsessives' guide to contemporary cinema via film discussion, news, reviews, features, nostalgia, movie music, soundtracks, DVDs and more.


Check out Indiewire on LockerDome on LockerDome

E-Mail Updates