The Tournament (2009)

The Tournament (2009)- * * *1\2

Directed by: Scott Mann

Starring: Robert Carlyle, Kelly Hu, Ving Rhames, Liam Cunningham, Ian Somerhalder, and Scott Adkins

Powers (Cunningham) is the mastermind behind THE TOURNAMENT - an event where the best assassins in the world vie to kill each other to become the number one killer - and rake in a ten million dollar prize. Unsuspecting priest Father MacAvoy (Carlyle) becomes embroiled in all the craziness when he accidentally swallows a tracking device meant for the competitors (and will explode after 24 hours). Lai Lai Zhen (Hu) takes him under her wing in order to protect him, which will be necessary with psychos like Miles Slade (Somerhalder) on their tail. Of course, last year’s winner, Joshua Harlow (Rhames) returns - but what are his true motives? Who will be victorious in THE TOURNAMENT?

The Tournament is a lot of fun and never anything less than totally entertaining. It’s professionally and competently made, which gives the action, fun, and thrills a solidity that captivates the audience. While there is a satisfying amount of very cool, comic-book violence, there’s also a nice upbeat feel and some humorous dialogue. Like The Raid (2011), it’s essentially one feature-length action scene, interspersed with short interstitial bits of exposition that move the plot along before propelling into the next action setpiece. It’s all very winning and audience pleasing. Add to that a great pace and plenty of surprises, and you can’t lose.

The premise - a bunch of assassins vying to kill each other, with a likable innocent caught in the middle of it all - is a can’t-lose proposition for the audience and, thankfully - and unusually - it actually lives up to its potential. The killer plot idea is wonderfully brought to life by a colorful cast of characters and fan favorites. Robert Carlyle is endearing as MacAvoy, and we get to see “action Ving Rhames”, mixing it up with the best of them, which we loved seeing. We also loved that fan favorite Scott Adkins was involved, though, like a lot of others in the tournament, his time is necessarily limited. We understand. Kelly Hu made a top-notch “good assassin”, a perfect mirror image to Somerhalder’s “boo-hiss” evil assassin. Capping it all off is the charisma of Liam Cunningham as Powers, putting a focus to all the chaotic goings-on.

Sure, we’ve seen similar plots before - even David Heavener fell victim to the “shady underground putting up cash and watching participants kill each other” situation, as has Robert Z’Dar and Jeff Wincott - in Fugitive X (1996), Dragonfight (1990), and Fatal Combat (1995), respectively - but The Tournament has so much verve it makes it all seem fresh. The individuals in the tournament each have clearly defined identities, as action movies used to have (i.e. Shootfighter, etc.) so it never becomes amorphous and hard to follow. Commendably, CGI seems to be kept to a minimum as well, reinforcing the old-school feel.

All the elements come together nicely, from the action scenes, fights, blow-ups, slo-mo moments (we’d say “slo-moments”, but we don’t want anyone to think there are any slow moments), and it’s all pretty over the top and somewhat cartoonish, in a good way. For example, we learned if you want to get a grenade away from you, you can just shoot it with a handgun. The image of shooting a grenade with a gun pretty much sums up The Tournament - modern-day meta-violence, and slightly ridiculous - but it’s all for the fans and you gotta love it.

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett

Also check out write-ups from our buddies, DTVC, Ballistic Blood Bullets, and Cool Target!


Lee Nicholson said...

Set in my hometown of Middlesbrough, although (minus a few establishing shots of the steel works and town centre) filmed mostly in Romania, THE TOURNAMENT is a blast from start to finish. I actually met the director in 2008, when he was still trying to get funding for the project. Although everyone wished him well, when he started reeling off his proposed (and eventual) cast list, no-one actually thought he had a snowballs-chance-in-hell of securing them. So fair play to him, that he made the movie he wanted (which far betrayed the meagre budget that he had to play with)

Ty said...

That's really interesting and we love when people have a personal connection or story about the movie. Thanks

Lee Nicholson said...

Apparently the director has only made one movie since, HEIST (2015) (but hey, it starred Robert DeNiro, Jeffrey Dean Morgan & Dave Bautista) and has recently been 'Rumoured' to be directing a SEVEN SAMURAI remake (for the Weinstein Company)

Explosive Action said...

I dug this one too.


Ty said...

Lee: Heist wasn't too bad. Definitely watchable.

Explosive Action: Thanks for your link! Great write-up to a killer film.