Assassination Games could have been a rollicking good time. It has all the elements of an awesomely cheesy action-fest at its disposal but they go largely untapped. Working from a script by Aaron Rahsaan Thomas, director Ernie Barbarash insists on grinding out a dour crime flick that fails to appropriately capitalize on the charisma or ass kicking potential of his leads.
Roland Flint (Scott Adkins) has a comatose wife at home and revenge on his mind. He used to be an assassin in the employ of some dirty Interpol agents until an infiltration assignment went horribly wrong. A gangster named Polo (Ivan Kaye) didn't take kindly to Flint's treachery so he and his goons gang-raped Flint's wife and beat her into a coma while Flint watched on helplessly. When an opportunity presents itself for Flint to exact vengeance by striking back at Polo, he jumps at the chance.
Standing in our man Flint's way (at least temporarily) is another assassin named Brazil (Jean-Claude Van Damme). Brazil also wants Polo dead but for far less personal reasons. He just wants the cash prize that has been placed on the scumbag's head. Although Brazil and Flint initially butt heads, they quickly realize that they have a common goal. They decide to kick ass and take names together. Unfortunately the dirty Interpol agents are back in the picture and have no qualms about partnering with Polo in order to kill Flint and recover some money he stole from them. With all the players in place, the games can finally begin...games featuring assassins...umm...assassination games.
I get the sense that if life were to hand Ernie Barbarash lemons, he would make toast. How else can one explain the utterly wasted potential on display here? For starters, there is the weathered Van Damme who has aged quite gracefully and has really started to come into his own as an actor. Then there's the young hotshot Adkins who has been itching for a breakout role ever since the Undisputed series put him on many an action fan's radar. These are two guys who can deliver a beatdown and make it look good. Unfortunately every action sequence here is either too short, too choppy or muted thanks to an overreliance on guns.
Since Adkins and Van Damme don't really get to strut their stuff in the fisticuffs department, it's reassuring to see that they resist the urge to completely phone in their performances. Adkins sells the part of the angry husband with a lethal set of skills while Van Damme goes in a slightly different direction with his role. His hitman is morally flexible until the very end. This leads to some interesting double-crosses and at least one scene late in the film that paints him in a very negative light. Van Damme steps over all the contradictions in his character in order to give us a unified vision of his burgeoning humanity
It's a pity that our heroes don't have proper villains to square off against in the film. The Interpol agents come across as bumbling and ineffective while Polo is defined largely by his misogyny and little else. I'm not sure when this happened but apparently threatening to kill someone just isn't enough anymore. You have to gang-rape them, beat them into a coma and then threaten to gang-rape them again while they are comatose. This sort of lazy plotting pops up throughout the film. We even get a hooker with a heart of gold who helps Van Damme get in touch with his softer side. Gag me, please.
As it stands, the film is far from successful. There are flashes of kinetic energy but they just aren't enough to deliver on the promise of what could have been. I watched the film hoping for a healthy portion of Van Dammage and a decent showcase for Adkins. I'll just have to wait a bit longer.
The video is presented in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio with anamorphic enhancement. The visuals have a desaturated look that screams 'gritty' while the yellow and green color palette screams 'sickly'. I didn't notice any major defects other than a few minor cases of moiré. Although the excessive bleaching of the image was distracting in parts, I found the presentation to be more than adequate.
The audio was presented in English and French Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks with English SDH and French subtitles. The audio mix was fairly clear although it only truly came alive during a few of the more bombastic action moments.
The only extra was a set of 8 Deleted Scenes (10:11). They were presented with unfinished effects and a temporary audio track. Although none of them were essential to the film, feel free to dig in if you need any more of Polo's violent misogyny.
Assassination Games isn't an offensively bad film. The most disappointing thing about it is that it isn't a whole lot better. Van Damme and Adkins show up to the party, game for anything, but director Ernie Barbarash insists on weighing them down with a convoluted script that mistakes meanness for grit. The action beats are short and choppy but they do liven up the proceedings a bit. Rent It.