There aren’t that many major action movies set in Middlesborough, UK so The Tournament at least deserves some points for its unusual setting. It also deserves some points for its enjoyable and over the top action sequences. The rest of the movie, from concept to characterisations, barely reaches the level of decidedly average.
So, there’s a tournament held every seven years in which the world’s top assassins compete for a large cash prize and their own life. Things are overseen by Powers (Liam Cunningham) and his team (including Andy Nyman as a tech guy) while various rich people make lots of bets on the proceedings. Each assassin has a tracking device inserted into their body and so can find the others – there are only 24 hours on the clock to be the last one standing or everyone dies. This time the tournament is being held in the UK and the hot favourites are Lai Lai Zhen (Kelly Hu), Miles Slade (Ian Somerhalder) and returning champion Joshua Harlow (Ving Rhames), a man out for revenge against whoever killed his wife. Things are complicated somewhat when Anton Bogart (played by Sebastien Foucan, one of the founders of Parkour and the man chased so memorably near the beginning of Casino Royale) removes his tracking device and throws it into a pot of coffee that ends up filling the cup drunk by Father MacAvoy (Robert Carlyle). Powers is all for a little improvisation and includes the priest in the game while Lai Lai Zhen struggles to look after the innocent man and get him through the events unscathed.
It’s hard to believe that it took three people to write this thing but credit is given to Gary Young, Jonathan Frank and Nick Rowntree despite the fact that there are no twists here that you can’t predict from the very beginning and that any characterisation is flimsy at best and laughable at worst. And I don’t think I need to dwell on how completely implausible most of the movie is.
The acting is wildly inconsistent with the usually reliable Carlyle stuck playing a pathetic and unlikeable character who you never really want to see do well, Kell Hu is a great kickass woman but her acting in this movie is pretty poor, Ving Rhames is as intimidating as usual and not too bad while Liam Cunningham is there, essentially, to provide the exposition and to be the bad man pulling the strings behind the scenes. Ian Somerhalder does really well and has the most fun, with his character being more than mildly psychopathic and simply enjoying all of the prospective carnage, but isn’t onscreen for long enough.
Director Scott Mann does just about enough to make you forgive the many failings though, he spaces the action sequences throughout and they’re actually bloody good. A mix of hand to hand combat and gunfights, things are always extra special whenever Sebastien Foucan is involved but all of the fights have major entertainment value. Okay, one shoot-out in a confined space has you questioning the marksmanship of these so-called assassins but most action movies have at least one moment like that so I’m willing to let it slide.
The Tournament is not a genre-changing movie and it’s probably destined to be forgotten in a year or two (in fact, I’m not sure if that many people found out about it in the first place) but it’s decent fun while it lasts, doesn’t outstay it’s welcome and should entertain those after an action fix on a Saturday night.
DIRECTOR: SCOTT MANN
STARS: ROBERT CARLYLE, KELLY HU, VING RHAMES, IAN SOMERHALDER, SEBASTIEN FOUCAN, LIAM CUNNINGHAM, ANDY NYMAN
RUNTIME: 95 MINS APPROX