I spent so very much of my teen years soaking up JCVD efforts. AWOL, Death Warrant, Double Impact, Sudden Death, Nowhere to Run, Universal Soldier, Black Eagle, Bloodsport, Kickboxer. Of course none of them were especially good, but there was a certain amount of enjoyment to be had in all of the high-kicking action. But that was then and this is now, with a mild smattering of martial arts mayhem and an unhelpfully convoluted and opaque plot proving wholly inadequate in capturing and maintaining ones interest.
JCVD himself has gone through a bizarre transition lately, talking to the camera in his meta effort JCVD and to his nipples for the Coors adverts, but this is very much back in the groove (or rut) of his extensive back catalogue of meaningless and only mildly diverting action efforts. There are occasional attempts at profundity (a quote from Nietzsche at the outset, a few soundbites that initially sound like, really deep, man, but are actually pretty stupid “people choose their death when they choose how they live”), but in essence this is pretty shallow and at times thoroughly unpleasant stuff. We get to see Polo wrap his belt around his hand before pounding on Flint’s wife’s face, we see him relishing the prospect of raping her again, despite her lying in bed in a persistent vegitative state, the only other significant female character spends the entire film getting beaten and eviscerated and a few peripheral characters get to meat unpleasant ends at the hands of bladed instruments. But it’s okay, because they’re all bad, right?
Perhaps I’m just losing my patience with these sorts of films. Adkins is clearly an excellent martial artist (he was Weapon XI in the finale of Wolverine) and has a measure of screen presence and the man who used to be Van Damme-age can still kick and punch with the best of them, but the film just doesn’t hang together cohesively. Polo is painted as unpleasantly as possible so that Flint is driven to any lengths to get to him and so that we don’t have to feel any sense of conflicting emotions when Flint finally gets to him, unnecessarily barbaric violence is inflicted on certain characters for no good reason and Flint survives Polo’s attack on his wife (much like Gerard Butler survives in Law Abiding Citizen) for no other reason than to propel the plot. None of the characters, key or marginal are presented in anything other than the most superficial shades and we are given little or no reason to care about anyone, hero or villain.
The running time is mercifully brief and the action sequences are edited together professionally enough, but we have been spoiled of late by films of immeasurably higher quality, made by directors and actors at the top of their respective games, with barn-storming action sequences alloyed to coherent narratives and compelling characters. Of course Assassination Games is setting its sights lower than Inception, The Bourne Ultimatum and The Dark Knight (to name but a few), but it still comes across as lazy, unimaginative and ultimately boring.
One for died in the wool fans only. Catch it to rent from 7th November or buy from 10th October.
Extras: Just some rightly excised deleted scenes. Disappointing.