Director Scott Mann's The Tournament borrows a bit from The Most Dangerous Game, probably the most influential humans hunting humans movie ever made and one that's been ripped off countless times, usually with pretty poor to middling results. Mann's film isn't a direct rip off but the influence is certainly there, but this time the influence is put to good use and the results are pretty impressive.
The storyline begins a few years in the past where an assassin named Joshua Harlow (Ving Rhames) brutally slaughters a few other hitmen types inside a meat packing plant. After successfully making bloody red chunks out of his opponents he wins an underground contest held every seven years to declare the world's greatest assassin. Fast forward to the present day and the next tournament is just getting under way with a ten million dollar cash prize to go to the winner. A series of combatants are all equipped with a two way transmitter that allows them to track one another on a handheld device and also to be watched by the wealthy elitist types all gathered in a secret lair to watch the carnage unfold.
As the assassins start knocking one another off, alliances are made between a Chinese assassin named Lai Lai Zhen (Kelly Hu) and Harlow, who has been forced into competing against his will by the people behind the curtain pulling the strings. Throw in a well meaning priest named Joseph MacAvoy (Robert Carlyle) who finds himself wrapped up in far more of this than he'd like and take note of the ticking clock because as the contest gets closer to finding its winner, the surviving competitors, with their lives on the line, pull out all the stops...
This scene starts off with one of the most remarkably bloody and violence opening scenes from a semi-mainstream film in some time as we see Harlow win the first competition. From there, the plot is firmly established and the characters are off. There's very little backstory given to anyone here and the assassins are all very thinly sketched out but Mann makes up for that with violence galore, almost all of which is done the old fashioned way and without distracting or gloopy looking CGI effects. The result is a pretty splat-tastic effort that might all lead to a pretty predictable conclusion but which entertains regardless.
Rhames is great as one of the leads, and he's actually given a chance to show some legitimate emotion during the film's finale, which he handles quite well. The guy isn't a half bad actor at all and could probably carry a serious dramatic role as well as he carries the stereotypical action movie guy parts he seems to always land. He plays well off of Kelly Hu, who is very easy on the eyes and sleek enough to be believable in her role. She shows a knack for hand to hand combat and does well in the action scenes. Carlyle is good in his part as well, though he isn't given quite as much to do as the other headliners. The supporting cast, made up primarily of bit part players like cannon-fodder competitors or 'rich behind the scenes dudes' are all fine, but this is Rhames and Hu's show for the most part.
All in all, the film might not be as over the top as its red band trailer would lead you to believe, but it's a sufficiently vicious and grisly action film that isn't afraid to go for the throat. Highlighted by some excellent and surprising violence, slick camera work, and some fun performances, The Tournament is absolutely worth a watch for action movie junkies.
The Tournament is presented in a pretty good AVC encoded 1.85.1 widescreen presentation that features nice color reproduction and a fair bit of detail in the foreground and the background of the image at all times. There aren't any obvious issues with heavy noise reduction, compression artifacts or heavy edge enhancement and while detail may not rival the best that the format has to offer, it definitely does trump the standard definition release which came out a few months back. An unobtrusive coat of fine grain is present throughout the movie but there isn't any actual print damage to complain about. Close up shots look nice and sharp - in one scene you can tell that Kelly Hu is wearing a lot of lip gloss, little details like that do stand out more now in high definition - while medium and long distance shots fair okay as well. This isn't sharp and crisp enough to serve as demo material and some of the post production tinkering employed takes away from the detail that could have been there in certain shots, but overall the movie does look pretty good.
The only audio option provided is an English language DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track though it is of pretty decent quality. The levels are well balanced and there aren't any problems with hiss or distortion to complain about. Dialogue comes through clearly at all times and the score and sound effects are mixed in with the appropriate amount of punch - if you saw the movie on standard definition you'll notice this improvement right away in the awesome opening sequence. Bass response is strong and tight and appropriately intense when the movie calls for it, while the quieter scenes are as subdued as they need to be. Surround activity isn't as constant as you might hope for in an action intensive film like this, but that complaint aside, things are fine here. Optional English and Spanish subtitles are provided..
The disc has a menu and chapter selection and nothing else. No trailers, no featurettes... nothing.
While it's maybe a bit on the predictable side, The Tournament makes up for whatever shortcomings the story may have with some remarkably violent set pieces and some seriously kick ass action scattered throughout the film. Some fun performances from Rhames, Carlyle and Hu helps things as well, making this one that action movie buffs should definitely seek out. The quality of the Blu-ray isn't bad, though the complete lack of extra features is off putting. The feature is a fun one though, a really solid action movie from start to finish that should please fans of shoot'em ups. Recommended on the strength of the film, more than on the quality of the Blu-ray disc itself.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.