The Tournament (UK 2009)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 1/18/14
Director: Scott Mann
Cast: Kelly Hu, Robert Carlyle, Ving Rhames, Liam Cunningham, Scott Adkins, Sebastien Foucan

A fun and increasingly outrageous action outing that's held together by the commanding presence of Kelly Hu. Every seven years, the world's greatest assassins come together for a winner-takes-all murder competition. In a plot device similar to "Battle Royale" (2000), the players are equipped with exploding tracking devices that will fatally detonate in the event that more than one player is alive at the end of the game. The players of interest are the beautiful and mysterious Lai Lai Zhen (Kelly Hu), former tournament winner Joshua Harlow (Ving Rhames), and a down and out alcoholic priest named Father MacAvoy (grubby looking Robert Carlyle) who gets involved when he unwittingly swallows another player's tracker. It's essentially non-stop action as everyone tries to stay alive and eliminate the competition, which builds to a climax at a quiet church in the countryside. The resolution is silly and predictable, but the grim and no-nonsense approach keeps it from being overly ridiculous.

Pretty much an "action for action's sake" movie, but the story is solid enough to bring the various set pieces together into a consistent and coherent whole. The action scenes are exciting and well staged, and stunt performers Scott Adkins and Sebastien Foucan get a nice opportunity to showcase their skills. My only complaint is with the jerky camera work and quick cuts, which obscure the action and make it hard to follow at times. The violence is graphic and bloody, and the camera doesn't shy away from messy bullet hits and exploding body parts. Kelly Hu is absolutely wonderful as a weary and conflicted assassin who is haunted by the blood on her hands, and regardless of how the tournament ends, it's a way out for her. She's stunning and gives a strong and compelling performance, and her action scenes are riveting. While Rhames and Carlyle give solid performances, their characters aren't particularly interesting, and Father MacAvoy is downright annoying at times. The supporting characters are completely uninteresting, and just simple caricatures of gun crazy madmen (which reminded me of "Smokin' Aces" (2006) quite a bit). Overall, action fans (and Kelly Hu fans) should find something to like about the film.