Some films exist as little more than excuses to do things as simple as blow things up, show hot women in various stages of undress, or subject the audience to a mindless barrage of action sequences that defy the laws of nature and logic. Jason Statham has made a career out of films like this, and when done right, there's nothing wrong with these movies--at least not in the sense that these movies are never more than they've set out to be. And that is certainly the case with The Tournament, a film that exists--almost exclusively to blow things (and people) to smithereens, show some women naked, and careen out of control on a cinematic blazing trail of mindless violence.
Those of you familiar with hack-director Albert Pyun's underrated piece of exploitation trash Mean Guns, will no doubt recognize The Tournament as something of a more high-rent rip-off. The premise goes something like this: every seven years there is a tournament that pits thirty of the world's top assassins in a deadly game of kill or be killed. Each of the killers has a tracking device surgically implanted so that the gamekeepers can follow their every move. But this year there's something new--that's right, you guessed it!!!--the tracking devices are rigged to explode after twenty-four hours. Ving Rhames co-stars as Joshua Harlow, the winner of the previous tournament, who finds himself once again on a kill-crazy rampage, even though he had retired from the game. It seems Joshua is back, to get revenge against whoever killed his pregnant wife. Also in the competition is Lai Lai Zhen (Kelly Hu), a deadly killer who is having second thoughts about her kill for pay lifestyle. Complicating things is Father Macavoy (Robert Carlyle), a drunken priest who unwittingly finds himself caught up in the deadly game. (One of the killers cuts out his tracking device, and drops it in the priest's coffee). Soon Lai Lai is protecting Father Macavoy while an endless barrage of carnage rains down all around them.
Taken for what it is--95-minutes of brainless violence drenched in exploding body parts--The Tournament is entertaining. Delivering as much in the action quotient as it skimps in the intelligence quotient, this is not a film that is meant to be thought about or scrutinized for any longer than it takes for the carnage to register in your brain and then move on to the next act of mayhem. There's an especially entertaining chase sequence featuring Parkour badass Sebastian Foucan, and a shoot-out in a strip club that will likely leave you saying, "Oh, now I get what those people mean when they complain about too much violence in movies." And if you have problems with violence as both an expository plot device and a form of character development, then this will not be the film for you. The script itself is pretty much devoid of anything that could be considered intelligence, and the characters seem to be put together from cardboard found in a recycling bin; but neither is really that much of a bad thing.
If you enjoy films like the check-your-brain-at-the-door shenanigans of Jason Statham, or the aforementioned Mean Guns, then you're likely to be amused with The Tournament. And if you're not familiar with Mean Guns, or have never sat through any of the Transporter movies, but find yourself chomping at the bit to see Kelly Hu, Ving Rhames or Robert Carlyle in a bombastic display of violence that is as bloody as it is largely forgettable--and who isn't--then look no further.