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"The Tournament" Review

The vagaries of the movie business are hard to fathom at times. Crappy movies get wide studio releases while nifty flicks get dumped straight to video. An example of the latter is The Tournament, a movie that I'm not sure why I checked out other than it had Kelly Hu (the hottie who was Lady Deathstryke in X2: X-Men United) and the premise sounded appealing: Every seven years, 30 assassins convene in a town and proceed to kill each other until the survivor is crowned "King of the Assassins."

This go around is held in a small English city where the tournament organizers have control of the cops and the extensive closed-circuit camera network. The contestants are drugged and implanted with tracking beacons/heart monitors which allow everyone to know when an opponent is near as well as telling them where the others are at. Hiding isn't an option because if there isn't sole survivor at the end of 24 hours, the trackers explode (shades of Battle Royale) and everyone loses.

When one contestant cuts his tracker out and tosses it into a diner coffee pot, it is accidentally ingested by a drunken priest - is there any other kind in movies? - played by Robert Carlyle and he becomes an unwilling target and participant in the game. Hijinks ensue in spectacularly bloody detail.

Director Scott Mann is practically nobody, but he's got a sensibility about his action that feels like a cross between Hong Kong caper flicks and the films by Luc Besson's proteges like The Transporter and Taken. (Neil Blomkamp got a lot of attention for District 9, but a savvy producer would be wise to give Mann something to do that will be seen.) The action is splashy and trashy, but coherent enough to follow. The performances are as good as they need to be, though Ian Somerhalder (Boone from Lost, currently on The Vampire Diaries) is a revelation as a particularly cruel lunatic from Texas with a white duster and a willingness to shoot dogs or hookers just cuz, yet still be appealing. (My girlfriend is all over him. Whatever.)

The ultimate ending isn't really a surprise, but so much blow-'em-up/shoot-'em-up fun is had along the way, I can give 'em a pass for sticking to the formula. When the subject is a bunch of depraved murderers taking each other out, should we really expect a moral compass and heavy meaning to come with? Didn't think so.

Score: 8.5/10. Buy the DVD.

Here's the trailer. I see most of what I typed in the synopsis is shown here. Lovely.


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