RogerBW's Blog

Assassination Games 28 February 2019

2011 action, dir. Ernie Barbarash, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Scott Adkins: IMDb / allmovie. Two assassins find themselves working together on one last job.

The elephant in the room is that this was meant to star Van Damme and Seagal jointly. But Seagal dropped out; Vinnie Jones was briefly considered, but the production ended up with Adkins, a fighter and mostly direct-to-video and cheap sequel actor; and while Van Damme was never particularly great at portraying a character, he does at least have some screen presence separate from his physicality, which Adkins mostly doesn't.

Of course this is basically just another grunty macho action film. Of the two named female characters, one is in a coma (put there by the Bad Guy, obviously), and the other, well, a runaway prostitute with a heart of gold in a film like this isn't exactly a model of agency even if she could transcend the cliché, which she doesn't; indeed, they're both basically here to make our heroes better people merely by existing, rather than by actually doing anything.

The early shots, in particular, are so heavily tinted they might as well be monochrome, but the actual framing and visual grammar works quite well; the outside work, in Bucharest and New Orleans, is effective at portraying a general sense of decay, and the film looks rather better than the four million dollars it apparently cost to make. In the fight scenes, which aren't as plentiful as one might expect given that both of the leads actually know a fair bit about martial arts, it's clear what's going on and who's moving where, which is a rarity especially with an ageing star.

There's some attempt to humanise both of the hitmen who are our heroes, and Van Damme actually pulls this off to a surprising extent; but there's more time spent showing that the targets are Very Bad People so it's entirely OK to murder them in a variety of ways.

It's a decent Van Damme film, much better than some of the other stuff he was churning out about this time; but if you're not already a fan of his work this won't convince you to become one.

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