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Assassination Games

tn_assassinationgamesASSASSINATION GAMES teams up two of the best working action guys, Jean-Claude Van Damme and Scott Adkins. They were already in THE SHEPHERD: BORDER PATROL together and will both be in UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: A NEW DIMENSION, but this is the first one where they’re co-leads. They play two elite assassins who work together after they realize they’re after the same guy (for Van Damme it’s business, for Adkins it’s personal). It would be one of the most anticipated DTV movies of the year if it wasn’t getting a negligible (Oscar qualifying?) theatrical release today. It’s not playing on my coast, but luckily I was able to get a DVD screener. (Here’s the official websight with theater listings – not sure how well they’re gonna do with that title ’cause it was hard to even find on Google.)
Van Damme plays Brazil (I didn’t catch his name in the movie, but that’s what IMDb says), your typical lonely, burnt out assassin. He lives alone in Bucharest (I think) with a cool Batcave type setup – a nice apartment hidden inside a shitty one. He has dual badass juxtapositions:

1) he plays violin, and

2) he loves his pet turtle (also an obvious symbol for his life of hiding inside his shell).

If LEON taught us anything (besides that it’s a good idea to cast Gary Oldman as a crazy, pill-popping police detective) it’s that a guy like this needs to befriend a little girl to grow his heart back. Brazil goes for an adult instead, the ol’ hooker-who-looks-like-a-super-model character. He saves her from getting beat up by his pimp next-door-neighbor, but his heart hasn’t grown back yet when he does it so instead of saying “Hey, stop beating that woman with your belt!” he says “You’re disturbing me.” Says he’s trying to practice violin. I like that part.

mp_assassinationgamesBut that’s a subplot. The main story is about a pair of corrupt Interpol agents who think an “out of the business” assassin named Roland Flint (Adkins) is gonna expose them, so they lure him out of hiding by releasing the gangster who put his wife in a coma. They hire Brazil to kill the gangster knowing Flint will come after him too and maybe the two will kill each other or something. I would’ve told them just to hire Brazil to kill Flint, but they were cheap and wouldn’t pay me a consulting fee, so fuck ’em.

When the two killers interfere with each other’s assassination attempts they reluctantly agree to pool their talents and chase down the now-more-careful target and the pricks who hired them. There is detective work, questioning, guns, kicking. Also knives and a crossbow. All things I enjoy.

Van Damme and Adkins are both good, playing stock characters without many quirks, but the generic qualities they have are ones that I tend to like. They’re both quiet and brooding, and Adkins gets to use his own accent, which is his second best accent after Russian. Director Ernie Barbarash (HARDWIRED, STIR OF ECHOES 2, CUBE ZERO) gives them good entrances and makes them look good. Van Damme gets a few good character moments, like the scene where he awkwardly welcomes the prostitute neighbor to his living room and seems to realize, “Oh shit, this means I gotta stay in the fake crappy part of the apartment until she leaves.”

The standout in the supporting cast is Van Damme’s son Kristopher Van Varenberg as the younger of the two Interpol agents. You might’ve seen him on that reality show Van Damme: Behind Closed Doors if you’re in a country that shows it. If not, he looks an awful lot like his dad and has the Belgian accent but speaks English more smoothly. He seems boyishly charming and optimistic, which makes him an interesting choice to play this corrupt cop. It’s like he has no idea he’s a bad guy. I really liked that.

I’m not sure if Van Varenberg is a fighter. If so he doesn’t do it here, it’s mostly dialogue and a little shooting. He doesn’t do the splits either. Van Damme’s daughter Bianca Van Varenberg is also in the movie, but since she’s playing Flint’s wife she’s just laying in bed pretending to be unconscious the whole time, so she doesn’t do the splits either.

I got one stylistic complaint: this is one of those movies where they drain out so much color that at times they might as well have shot it in sepiatone. I don’t know why they think that looks good. It’s kind of depressing. This is not a movie that makes room for humor, so why not, like, a couple colors? That might help liven things up.

A more important complaint: There should be more elaborate action. What’s there is comprehensible, and there’s a cool idea for the climax. Adkins gets to do his quick, graceful leaps from walls and shit. The fight choreographer is Stanimir Stamatov, a Van Damme stunt double who also worked on the fights for the new CONAN movie. Van Damme and Adkins do fight each other, so don’t worry about that. They both get some good moves (Adkins moreso) but we’ve seen them do better, including against each other in THE SHEPHERD. Too bad the occasion of their team-up didn’t inspire more striving for fight excellence on the part of the choreographers, schedulers or whoever. The action is fine, but because of this cast and the fact that it sort of got a big screen release it’s too bad it’s not better than fine.

(to be fair, if this was a big budget studio movie I would probly be impressed that there were some flying kicks and stuff and I was able to see it)

(also to be further fair I just remembered that Van Damme had a heart attack while filming this movie. There’s definitely more action than you’d expect from a guy who had a heart attack during filming)

My final complaint is that I think it could use more strangeness. I enjoyed these characters and this story, but some more original tweaks to the formula would make it more memorable. Maybe if he carried the turtle around for most of the movie like he did with the bunny in THE SHEPHERD it would be enough for me. Or if he literally built himself a shell to run around in and hide inside when the going gets tough. I enjoyed this movie from beginning to end but I doubt there’s anything that will really stick with me and make me want to watch it again.

Still, it’s a solid effort, and one of the better late Van Damme joints. And it’s pretty brutal. Not in the sense of being real gory or anything, what I mean is it shows no mercy on either side. Nice people die horribly, and the good guys don’t hesitate to hand out death sentences even to the lower guys on the totem pole. It’s pretty fitting, actually. I know in movies assassins can turn all sentimental at the end, especially after they meet a nice hooker that makes them look at the world in a different way, but it makes sense that these guys just want to kill everybody. That’s the name of their game.

“Extreme positions are not succeeded by moderate ones, but by contrary extreme positions.” –Friedrich Nietzsche*


*the movie starts with a Nietzsche quote. Makes it seem important or something. I thought I should try ending with one to see if it helps my reviews.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

This entry was posted on Friday, July 29th, 2011 at 11:17 am and is filed under Action, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

20 Responses to “Assassination Games”

  1. Good review. Looking forward to this.

  2. So you’re saying you’d like Van Damme to play a Middle-aged Mutant Ninja Turtle, Vern? He could be named Botticelli.

    “Van Damme’s daughter Bianca Van Varenberg is also in the movie, but since she’s playing Flint’s wife she’s just laying in bed pretending to be unconscious the whole time, so she doesn’t do the splits either.”
    I’m lucky I didn’t choke on the snacks I was eating when I read this.

    I don’t know if Kristopher is a fighter per se, but I watched the Van Damme documentary thing and I believe they did mention he was trained in Karate. Does he fight his dad in this?

  3. Hope NYC has one of the limited theatrical screenings if they’re still going that route. I am definitely in there like swimwear.

  4. I checked, Broddie. We are ass out like mass gout.

    NOTE TO SELF: Edit that last part before you hit submit.

  5. Dammit!!!

    I bet it will take Netflix forever to get this shit too. I must tell my friend about the release date cause then he’ll buy that shit guaranteed & I could see it right away. Dude is a JCVD die hard.

  6. A film about professional assassins who actually kill people for money? I’m game.

  7. Apparently it’s also today “available for rent on YouTube”, whatever that means, but it’s legal.
    http://www.youtube.com/movie/assassination-games?feature=mm_mv_f

  8. “Van Damme’s daughter Bianca Van Varenberg is also in the movie, but since she’s playing Flint’s wife she’s just laying in bed pretending to be unconscious the whole time, so she doesn’t do the splits either.” Not unless it’s Friday night and she’s a bit drunk perhaps?

  9. Knox Harrington

    July 30th, 2011 at 2:30 am

    Remember back when Van Damme was seriously considered for the role of Spider-man? There’s a part of me that really wish that happened.

    Makes me wonder: If he was to play a superhero today, which character would he be best suited to play? I guess he’s too old and too Belgian to play Iron Fist. Wouldn’t mind seeing a “Jean-Claude Van Damme IS The Punisher” poster at my local video store.

  10. I really cannot emphasise how much I am anticipating this flick. No idea why they blew all the free publicity from the Behind the Scenes with JCVD show by renaming the movie from “Weapon”, but still really looking forward to this.

  11. Look for JCVD to tear it up in CAPTAIN AMERICA: RISE OF BATROC THE LEAPER in 2014.

  12. Hell remember when JCVD was the “only one” that could play Gambit back in the 90s for the dream X-MEN cast?

  13. The movie should have been called ‘Extreme Positions’

  14. Very glad to hear this is a good flick, my anticipation for this is immense (especially after all the tiny BTS clips from the JCVD TV show).

    I must say, I’m surprised VD’s son has gotten a good write up here: he seemed pretty lousy in the clips but clearly the guy has got his old man’s acting chops.

    His daughter, though…maybe not so much.

    And whut?! JCVD as Spidey?! Holy fuckballs, that would’ve been a truly shocking moment in film history – who could have been a big enough foil for him? Arnie as The Lizard? Jeff Speakman as Electro? Michael Berryman as The Vulture?

    Ah shit, getting way too geeky – my apologies everyone.

  15. Sorry to be disagreeable, but I do not look forward to seeing WEAPON/ASSASSINATION GAMES again. I was the only one in the auditorium for an afternoon show, just the way I like it, and this movie never came close to giving me the buzz achieved during, say, NINJ* or UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: REGENERATION or THE TOURNAMENT. The first 2 kills were excellent, so my expectations were met for a few minutes until being thoroughly not lived up to for the rest of the thing.

    Among DTVers of the past 3 years, I’d rank ASSASSINATION GAMES slightly above DRIVEN TO KILL, which is another one Vern kinda liked that has an awesome opening scene and mostly low-budget disappointment afterwards.

    But I know my talkbacking won’t discourage most of you from seeking this one out, and I hope y’all enjoy it. The ending is unique & pretty badass, come to think of it, though I wish it had been less sudden & more cleanly filmed. A lot of us here are committed to see every Scott Adkins & every JCVD movie for the rest of eternity no matter what some asshole says about it, and I don’t want to change that.

  16. Assassination Game was very disappointing. First is not an action film, but a drama with a few action scenes in in the first 40 minute and in the last 15 minutes. That’s it. In a b-film like this you don’t expect great plot, acting and characters, but you expect wall to wall action. Which is the reason why I love Ninj*, it’s never breaths for more then 5-10 minutes between the action scenes, this breath for like 40 minutes. This isn’t Terminator 2 so why stop the film to develop character and plot for so long time. We should have a badass action scene in the middle where Adkins and Van Damme went to town on some guys and show how badass they are, and the scene when Adkins gets captured should be more elaborated with more of a fight scene, and perhaps a chase.

    With a B-action film like this you comes to see Adkins and Van Damme kick ass, and lot of action. Plot and character development is secondary and if it’s good it will be the icing on the cake. This films biggest fault was it got boring and just stalled until the final we knew would come.

    Of course some b-action film doesn’t have wall to wall action like some of Donnie Yen’s crime films like Killzone and Flashpoint, but they move fast (or they move like a motherfucker as Tony Gilroy would say), and in the last 20-30 minutes they are non stop action, and the action is great. So I guess the second biggest fault is that the third act action doesn’t live up to what it could be. Universal Soldier Regeneration only had like three set pieces, but they where three great lengthy set pieces, and when the end set piece with Van Damme on full rampage came, it lasted for like almost 20 minutes.

    I would love if Van Damme and Scott Adkins would do a film in Hong Kong together with Donnie Yen. I would know that when bring does together he better deliver something unique.

  17. So… wait, was this review an extreme position or a moderate position? And did it follow an extreme position or a moderate position? And if it followed an extreme position (like, for example, an insane Turkish Captain America vs. Spider-Man film), what kind of extreme anti-position was it?

  18. Saw this tonight and really liked it. Especially the fact that both Jean-Claude and Scott got to act a little bit. But there’s action as well. A nasty bad guy and a decent plot. By the way, do you think all those baddies dressed in black, driving Range Rovers and carrying AK47’s in every Dolph, Jean-Claude, Seagal and Austin movie are from the same gang?

  19. I liked it better than i expected. Van Damme gives a good performance here.

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