The Direct to Video Connoisseur

I'm a huge fan of action, horror, sci-fi, and comedy, especially of the Direct to Video variety. In this blog I review some of my favorites and not so favorites, and encourage people to comment and add to the discussion. If you click on an image, it will take you to that post's image page, which includes many more pics from the film and other goodies I couldn't fit in the actual review. For announcements and updates, don't forget to Follow us on Twitter and Like our Facebook page. If you're the director, producer, distributor, etc. of a low-budget feature length film and you'd like to send me a copy to review, you can contact me at dtvconnoisseur[at]yahoo.com. I'd love to check out what you got.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Assassination Games (2011)

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For those that have Liked the DTVC on Facebook (and if you haven't, the link is over to your left), you've been following the ongoing saga of my trying to get my hands on this movie since it was released over a month ago-- and if you haven't, you've been bugging me and wondering why I haven't gotten to it yet. Netflix, whose DVD service has declined considerably over the past couple months, has simply refused to send me this, relegating it to "Very Long Wait" status. To make matters worse, my local RedBox station also didn't have it. Then last week, by some divine Jean-Claude Van Damme miracle, it was suddenly in stock, and I went today to pick it up. Finally, our long nightmare is over. Also, Ty at Comeuppance Reviews hit this one too.

Assassination Games has JCVD as an assassin that lives a lonely life in Bucharest, though he's very good at what he does. He's hired, unbeknownst to him, by some dirty Interpol agents to kill a Russian mob boss, the idea being that the attempt to kill this mob boss will flush out Scott Adkins, a former Interpol agent whose wife was raped and beaten into a coma by the mobster. Adkins ran off with the Interpol agent's dirty money after the attack, and they want it back. Now Adkins and Van Damme have been brought into an uneasy alliance, neither sure if he can trust the other, but neither sure he can succeed alone.

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This had an excellent opening, an even better ending, and a blahfest in the middle. It had some real potential to really work as a stylish, Noirish, old school action flick, it just didn't have enough style to compensate for the lack of substance that padded a lot of the film. I could've lived with the lower action quotient if the scenes in between weren't as long, or if they were cooler. For instance, we've seen the assassin seeking redemption by saving the hooker before, and they didn't do anything new with it, so the fact that each scene dragged on hurt that much more. Adkins and Van Damme had great chemistry, yet they didn't have many scenes together. When they were together at the end, we saw the true potential of what they could do together, and it made it that much more frustrating that we didn't get to see it. As much as I wanted to like it, Assassination Games didn't work for me.

Usually I devote this paragraph to the film's main Hall of Famer, but I'm going to wait on that for the next paragraph, and instead get into where I thought this could've worked. As I was watching it, I thought "had Nikkatsu had this script in the 60s, they would've given it to Seijun Suzuki, and he would've turned it into a Criterion classic." I think the first thing he would've done is cut 15 to 20 minutes, turning it into a 75-80 minute movie. You'd be surprised how much we don't need to know that a movie maker thinks is so essential (and when you look at the deleted scenes, you can see that there was even more they thought we needed, and were mercifully spared). From there's it's all about style. Keep the modern action scenes, and even keep the frequency of them, because we don't need as many if it's stylish enough. There were some spectacular sets, meaning any scene is already halfway to being cool. If we had some slicker outfits, more suits-- black with white shirts-- more smoking, and more uptempo music, it would've gone a long way. Keep the Van Damme and the hooker redemption thing, but make it quicker, short scenes that go straight to the point, not dragged out and killing the pacing of the movie. This could've been one of the best DTV action movies we've seen in a while, but it was crushed from its own weight.

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All right, now for Van Damme. First and foremost, no buttcheeks, no love scene, in fact, he wasn't a good lover at all. This was huge for me that Van Damme could play an emotionally dissociative character like that-- and that he'd want to play that character. He really could have pulled off the Jo Shishido gangster/hit man character had this movie given him the full license too. Unfortunately, while they did a good job with him and the hooker next door, they made the scenes drag on too long, and the payoff wasn't there at the end with the way that situation was resolved. I think we saw with JCVD that Van Damme has much more range than we'd given him credit for, and while this doesn't give him enough material to work with, it gives him some, and it's good to see him run with it. Also, his son and daughter are in this, the son as an Interpol agent, and the daughter as Atkins's comatose wife-- don't we feel old that his children are old enough to play adults in movies?

Speaking of Atkins, he was good, but again, the role was too blah for what he could've done. It was too focused on what happened with his wife, and not focused enough on how cool and charismatic he is. Not to mention, they gave him some pretty lackluster outfits-- seriously, mix in a suit or two. One positive though, beyond the few scenes that weren't his character being blah, this movie let him use his natural English accent, which was excellent. I have never understood why English actors are ever cast as Americans and forced to affect American accents. We as Americans love English accents, it's a plus for us, let them use them. Luke Goss, Bruce Payne, Scott Atkins, what have you, don't make them affect American accents-- I beg you.

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Yes, that is JCVD dressed as a hipster. It was his disguise for his first hit in the opening scene-- which was fantastic by the way. Tell me that's not a movie that has to be made, Van damme as a hipster. And I'm not saying it to make fun of Van Damme, I'm saying it to make fun of hipsters. Can you see him in a coffee shop, with that hair and those glasses, sporting a gray V-neck T-shirt and a scarf, reading Bukowski or David Foster Wallace or something-- what do hipsters read?-- extolling the virtues of Lil' Wayne's Tha Carter III, going out for a PBR at an Irish themed pub later. Is that what hipsters do? All that just seems hipsterish. They like Twin Peaks too, don't they? I'd have to do some research, but this is the movie that has to be made.

This is a disappointment, mainly because it had the potential to be something so great. I guess, based on the scenes they cut, I should be thankful it was as parsimonious as it was, but even with the edits, it was still too bulky in the middle, and that weighed down what could've been a really stylish, Noirish, modern DTV actioner. There were some positives to take away with Van Damme and Atkins though, so if you're a fan of either, there's a lot to be optimistic about.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1436568/

16 comments:

  1. I was very dissapointed by this, Van Damme was boring, Adkins doesn`t do anything for me. It`s such a letdown, really. Some half-assed action scenes , too few...and the color filter`Please..horrible.
    I can`t understand why this generic crap is even green-lit.Producers aren`t paying attention, just a quick played by the numbers actioner, hoping it will make some money with JCVDs name on it.Where is the inspiration for something better? Inspiration doesn`t cost money.

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  2. In case any of you are interested , "The Eagle Path" finally has a release date, unfortunately it's not until June 2012. BTW Matt, do you have any plans on reviewing that DTV Jason Statham film "Blitz" or the DTV Bruce Willis film "The Set Up"?

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  3. Everything I've heard about this so far has been "meh". I'm hoping that going in with lowered expectations might help. Glad to see that JCVD and Adkins are going to be in Expendables 2 though.

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  4. I disagree about the inspiration, I almost think it took itself too seriously, but I agree about that modern washed out film effect-- how many movies were made in black and white or technicolor that were awesome? Is anyone saying "man, The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly" is so hard to watch on that film stock. I wish it were washed out and shot in digital." They need to get rid of that.

    Your lowered expectations will be raised again with the first scene, because it's really sweet. I was banking on a positive review after that first five minutes or so... then it lost me.

    I actually don't have any plans to do anymore DTV movies after this week. We'll be converting the blog into a showcase on silent Japanese cinema. So unfortunately Blitz and The Set Up are out. (As always, I have a lot of movies to get to, and I plan on doing them all eventually, you just have to be patient.)

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  5. This sounds like I might actually like it. I kind of stopped watching new Van Damme movies because they just weren't up to par with the early ones. And he was getting old. Oh, somebody told me today about a foreign TV show that he's on. Heard anything?

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  6. Man, I don't know if you'll like it, but you might. As big a fan as you are, it's worth checking out though-- definitely worth a $1 RedBox or getting it through Netflix.

    Are you talking about the reality show? I haven't seen it, but it airs in the UK. Here's the Facebook link:
    http://www.facebook.com/JeanClaudeVanDammeBehindClosedDoors
    There's a clip on there that's kind of funny.

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  7. I wasn't all that moved on this either. I liked Van Damme and I thought he played a great assassin, this is probably the closest to how a real assassin would be like in real life. The problem and I think the biggest problem is in fact the casting of Adkins, in that what this needed was a more expressive actor, I'm not saying Adkins is a bad actor (he's actually pretty talented) what I mean is, you need an actor like Cuba Gooding Jr or Christian Slater, someone who can play off an inexpressive character. The character of Adkins, seemed like one bent on hell bent vengenace, unbelievably careless yet good. The problem here is the script basically doesn't differ between the two characters who both are wooden protagonists.

    This wasn't a bad movie, it's just that it needed a better script. It needed better villains and it needed more stakes. The sequence where Van Damme lets the mobsters kill his love interest should be the strongest moment from the film, and yet it's meh.

    Also that final climax where they have a remote control thingee that can shoot everyone is a cheat. I also think too, that we expect more from Van Damme. I know I do.

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  8. What do hipsters read? Something like 'A Field Guide to the Urban Hipster'. Ya know. So they can be ironic and shit.

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  9. It's interesting Kenner how you blame the actors, and I blame the script. I think Adkins was good when he was allowed to be, but so much of the movie was just him having to be blah because the script dictated it. Van Damme was in the same position, only his character had more freedom for him to do more. It really needed to be that 1960s Nikkatsu Noir flick, with a streamlined script, and Van Damme and Adkins in black suits chewing up scenery and having the occasional fight scene or shootout.

    By the way, gotta love your Lions, they're really going for it. You think they'll go 19-0?

    And that book would be the perfect thing for Van Damme to be reading in his movie where he plays a Hipster. How fantastic would this be? Really?

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  10. Great review! Totally agree with all your points. This should have been way better. The middle dragged and Van Damme just looked bored.

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  11. Yeah, it's too bad, because it could've been so good.

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  12. silent japanese cinema?

    this is shameless but we have both blitz and setup/set up on our site. blitz is pretty good, but probably only went direct to video because it stars jason statham but not an action flick.

    i kind of like setup/set up but most people hated it.

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  13. I read your Set Up review, and have been curious to check it out, it's just a matter of getting it, between my local RedBox not having it and Netflix not sending it to me. Blitz I've been considering, it's just a matter of when I'd fit it in.

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  14. Oh, and SNS, by all means, you can mention your reviews and your site on here, especially if it's for a movie I haven't done yet and people are asking if I plan to do it.

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  15. I liked Van Damme in this. Might even go as far as say his character reminded me of Jean Reno in Leon/The Professional, but was better(!). The original title was good. He was a weapon. A machine. Very ankward in social situations. He was the turtle who hid his head when something unusual happened (obvious metaphor, but worked for me). Even after his "shell was cracked", he remained ankward and somewhat child-like and the world still wasn't that pretty (aspects which I personally thought Leon lacked). This could've been something. Also, the opening scene? That could've led to something. Or a true non-stop action buddy-film between VD and Adkins? I'll take it. But a combination of all three? Always a huge compromise.

    With the exception of the yellowish color filter, I was pleasantly surprised by the production values (the score, the filming etc), but this committed the cardinal sin: the best kills (throat slashed, meat cleaver to the head) happened first! Decapitation is nice...but it's no meat cleaver to the head. Still, I did like this one. Didn't love it, but liked it. Adkins STILL desperately needs and deserves that one breakthrough, though.

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  16. Lots to get to here TJ, so we'll start with the Reno comparison. I'll go there with JCVD being almost as good, but I can't cross that line with you. But prior to JCVD, I wouldn't have thought it possible for JCVD to have the range to do Reno, and I know now that that's not true-- and with the right material, he might be able to outdo Reno, but he needs the material.

    I agree about the best kills taken too early, and one thing that did was it made the movie get weird macabre-- like when the guy's ear gets cut off with the box cutter-- to try and top it. What they needed to do was top it with action, which they didn't quite understand.

    I agree that the identity crisis hurt this the most. It really could've done with trimming a good twenty minutes, and like you said, made into a kind of buddy picture, with the intrigue of Adkins and JCVD being assassins that can't trust each other adding another layer. They were great together.

    I also agree that, other than the washed out yellowing effect, this wasn't as bad production wise as we're used to seeing; and I hope we'll see Adkins in that breakout role soon!

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