Not to be confused with the Bruce Lee movie of the same name, 2010's Game Of Death stars one time box office powerhouse and tax evasion specialist Wesley Snipes as a C.I.A. agent named Marcus Jones who is working some sort of top secret security job for a cranky guy named Smith (Robert Davi) who is a big time arms dealer. While he's under Jones' watch, a gang of dastardly hoodlums swoop in with guns a'blazing and try to scoop him out from under him. Jones is no fool though, and he's able to figure out what's happening in time to stop them from successfully kidnapping Smith, though not before he has a stroke (Smith, not Jones).
Being wise in the ways of subterfuge and dirty dealings, Jones decides to try and figure out who was trying to kidnap Smith and why, and after a bit of all too easy snooping, he starts to put together a few pieces of this puzzle and realizes that there just might be someone working this from inside the C.I.A. itself. With Smith in the hospital and bad guys seemingly around every corner looking to score a big pay day whether Jones gets in the way or not, our hero finds himself stuck in the middle and trying to keep his client alive without getting himself killed in the process.
It's been some time since Snipes graced us with his presence but as completely predictable and by the numbers as Game Of Death is, the film proves that Wesley still has a pretty solid 'action guy' screen presence and that he knows how to work it. There's a coldness to his performance here that makes him seem maybe just a little bit more tough than he has in other somewhat recent vehicles, and he handles the action sequences well. There are plenty of shoot outs and chases and a bit of hand to hand here and there to keep things exciting, and the movie goes along at a very good pace to ensure that, if nothing else, it's not a dull film. But yeah, it's very definitely been inspired by action movies that have come before it, the Die-Hard films being a good example, particularly the scenes that take place in the hospital. As far as the camera work goes, the film wisely bucks the trend so popular in many action movies these days of filming the action close in, and instead pulls back and uses a lot of medium shots to showcase the danger and excitement that the film tries to get across.
Outside of Snipes' leading role, the acting isn't really anything to write home about, however. Robert Davi isn't bad in his part, but neither is he exceptional and he plays the character exactly how you'd expect him to. There are no surprises here in that regard, Davi basically plays Davi. A supporting performance from Zoe Bell of all people, however, just doesn't work. While her acting was passable in Tarantino's Death Proof that was likely because she was basically just playing herself and so her personality fit the part. Here things are a bit more serious and require a bit more dramatic tension and she just isn't able to deliver, which is a shame as she's quite a likeable woman and very talented when it comes to stunt work. Here we can't believe her in the part, however, and she stands out like a sore thumb.
By the time the end credits role, you'll have been entertained for an hour and a half. Game Of Death is not a film in the least bit concerned with strong characters or even believability but it does offer up enough mindless action and violence to keep and hold the pace. Snipes fans will enjoy it.
Game Of Death arrives on DVD in a nice looking 2.35.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that keeps the director's gritty aesthetic in check. Color reproduction is fine, though the film isn't the most colorful looking picture you're ever going to see, while black levels remain strong and stable throughout. There aren't any problems with compression artifacts or edge enhancement issues and the image is clean and perfectly satisfactory from start to finish.
An English language Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound track provides ample boom for the action scenes while still managing to deliver perfectly audible dialogue. The levels are well balanced and there are no problems with hiss or distortion to complain about at all. Bass response has some good kick to it and the effects and score are both punchy enough to work.
Aside from a few promo spots for other Sony releases and the standard menu and chapter stops that you'd expect to find on a DVD, this disc also contains roughly fifteen minutes worth of behind the scenes footage scattered across a handful of brief and generic featurettes. They give you a look at what it was like on set during the production but won't change your opinion of the movie much at all.
Snipes' fan base will certainly be happy to see the man back in action after a bit of a hiatus but he's not doing anything here we haven't seen him do before. Game Of Death is entertaining enough and a fun way to kill an hour and a half but it's hardly original. Sony's DVD is light on extras but it looks and sounds just fine. Action fans can consider this one a fine rental.
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.