The Tournament (2009)

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“The exotic life of an assassin is all glamour and exotic places, e.g. all-expenses trips to Middlesbrough.”

Every seven years, thirty of the world’s greatest assassins gather together for a battle. The winner gets $10 million, while bettors view the action remotely and gamble on the duels, face-offs and bloodbaths which ensue. Each assassin has a tracker implanted, and has a scanner where they can see the location of any other contestants nearby. This time, it’s in Middlesbrough, England, with reigning champion Joshua Harlow (Rhames) returning after he it told the murderer of his wife will be taking part. One of the 30 dumps their tracker into an alcoholic priest (Carlyle), who is “surprised”, shall we say, to become the target for the other 29. Lai Lai Zhen (Hu) realizes he’s an innocent, and vows to protect him, while also trying to win the competition.

The concept is, of course, completely implausible, and if you can’t drive a bus and a tanker through holes in the plot, you’re not trying. There are far too many assassins, too: of the 30 listed, probably no more than half a dozen get any lines, so they’d have been better off shrinking the number and giving them actual personalities. What results is basically “kill porn”: a massive number of deaths, some impressive, a couple genuinely spectacular, but possessing no emotional content or resonance whatsoever. That said, this is by no means unentertaining. Hu (I have consciously got to stop myself from calling her “Cindy-Lou”) seems to be carving a niche for herself as a low-rent version of Lucy Liu, and the action here is decent, and undeniably copious.

It all builds to a massive chase on a motorway, which sees the bus driven by the priest, being chased by the tanker driven by Harlow, while Zhen fights off the parkour guy from Casino Royale, in, on and around the bus. Mann has clearly been watching all the right movies, and if he needs a trailer reel for a career as a second-unit director, then he should just pop the DVD in and leave the room for 90 minutes. The writers, on the other hand… It really took three of them to come up with this complete nonsense? What did they do with the rest of the beer-mat?

Dir: Scott Mann
Star: Kelly Hu, Robert Carlyle, Liam Cunningham, Ving Rhames

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