Weakly surprising, but a surprise nonetheless, The Tournament is a fine example of that rarely seen entertainment product, the British action movie that’s not half bad. Set on Merseyside, it concerns a whole town hijacked for what passes as the assassins’ Olympics. Thirty (mostly unseen) ‘contestants’ from various countries are at each others’ throats with $10 million prize money and title of best killer at stake.
Ving Rhames (Piranha remake, Surrogates) plays reigning champion Joshua, back from retirement, out for revenge while he’s narrowing down his list of ‘professional’ suspects in the unsolved case of his wife’s murder. Kelly Hu (Cradle 2 The Grave, X-Men 2) represents Asian crime syndicates, and becomes the shepherd of fallen local priest, Father MacAvoy (Robert Carlyle, Stargate Universe) – wrongly identified as a player so that he’s hunted by psychos and maniacs, attempting to drive innocent but alcoholic victim MacAvoy (rank 500-1 outsider) out of town in a stolen bullet-riddled police car. There’s also a crafty super-athletic Frenchman, named Bogart (parkour expert Sebastien Foucan, Casino Royale), plus thoroughly OTT nutcase Slade (Ian Somerhalder, Vampire Diaries).
So, with local plod sidelined, tournament’s organisers tapped into urban CCTV for the elite gamblers’ live TV entertainment, and implants keeping track of lethal lunatics on the high road to hell, there are shoot-outs aplenty, much fantasy gunplay, bloodbaths in unlikely venues, severed limbs, exploding bodies caused by booby-trapped tracking devices, for a live-wired thriller that’s laden with clichés and burdened with damning surplus of videogame machismo but is far too blackly amusing to offend with miles of mayhem leading to a finale of duelling protagonists as MacAvoy struggles manfully to get into his terminal role in this most deadly game with only four hours left on the big countdown clock.
A first feature directed by newcomer Scott Mann, The Tournament manages the neat trick of imbuing mad people with a modicum of humanity, while also extracting some electrifying fun from a hackneyed, jingoistic plotline (shockingly, it took three people to write this!) of a soullessly anarchistic, wholly apocalyptic conspiracy about modern day warriors and mercenaries all becoming ‘snuff video’ gladiators. The happy ending is detailed with all the moralistic and philosophical closure of a church sermon (not a major spoiler that it’s a speech delivered as survivor’s redemption from the pulpit by a suitably chastened MacAvoy).
If you’re a serious fan of Carlyle’s more robust genre/ action flicks, like Face (1997), The 51st State (2001), and 28 Weeks Later (2007), this is another watchable and enjoyable rumble.