Assassination Games probably won’t be in theaters much past the time this review is printed. Even at that, it’s in nary a theater—locally or nationwide—to begin with. It’s a film that’s obviously built for DVD sales, not the climactic competition of summer movies. Judged within those simple confines, the film is perfectly acceptable action entertainment. People get shot, maimed and punched. That’s the gist of what happens in the film, actually, and that’s pretty much all you need to know when deciding if it’s for you or not.
The only other thing you really need to know is that this film stars Jean-Claude Van Damme, who is currently in the midst of a modest, late-career renaissance. What we get in this film is a hard-boiled Van Damme, one who is at least attempting to act. (He even lets an unconvincing tear roll down his cheek at one point, like he’s in an anti-littering PSA.) He’ll still never be mistaken for a great actor, but he’s much more palatable here than he was in his mulleted, mini-Schwarzenegger, “Muscles from Brussels” days. He’s also trying to prove he’s capable of being humorous, and even a bit human on a couple of occasions.
All of this is another way of saying that Van Damme is actually kind of respectable. That may also be the best way of describing Assassination Games: respectable. It’s got a weak, skimpy plot about a couple of assassins after the same target. The first (Van Damme) is in it for the money, presumably to maintain his collection of decorative violins, and to feed his pet turtle. The other (Scott Adkins, Undisputed III: Redemption) is out to avenge his comatose wife. The plot is purely an excuse to move from action scene to action scene—all of which are fairly bloody—as all types of baddies and English-speaking Ukrainians get their comeuppance in gruesome, violent ways. I’m not talking a Robocop (1987) level of gore or body count, but Assassination Games is a pretty nasty film at times. In fact, it might have the highest percentage of characters dying in a film since Titanic (1997).
The film’s biggest problem is that it simply doesn’t offer enough. Not enough action, and not enough cleverness in the action that we do get. The film is barebones, competent and not embarrassing, but there’s little on the table beyond that. Sure, the fight scenes are coherent, but they’re not too terribly imaginative—let alone fun—while the storyline is a parade of flimsy tropes and flimsier archetypes. Worst of all, Assassination Games is often kind of dull, taking its time getting to its bread and butter—the action. At times, the production looks and feels more like a poorly planned skin flick, but with better acting. Unless you’re the most diehard of Van Damme-devoted action fans, this film isn’t for you. Rated R for strong brutal and bloody violence, torture, language and some sexuality/nudity