7.5 out of 10

Release Date: 25th July 2010

Director: Scott Mann

Cast: Robert Carlyle, Kelly Hu, Ving Rhames, Liam Cunningham, Ian Somerhalder, Sebastian Foucan, Craig Conway, Andy Nyman, Iddo Goldberg, Nick Rowntree with John Lynch and Scott Adkins

Writer: Nick Rowntree



Here’s that high concept American style movie that young turk directors of the 1990s like Paul Anderson, Stephen Norrington and Vadim Jean were promising us.  Only none of them are involved.  Instead they gave us Shopping, Death Machine and Beyond Bedlam. These directors certainly opened the door for the wider range of UK movies we are seeing at the moment.  If blogs like Britpic existed back in 1992, I would be coming on to this site to post a review once every six weeks instead of everyday.  The fact that a slick big budget Hollywood style movie got made on the streets of Middlesborough would have been outlandish but here it is.  It even casts one or two descending / ascending Americans like Ving Rhames (PIRAHNA 3D) and Ian Somerhalder (LOST).  The fact that it pulls off a decent concept with expensive looking stunts and pyrotechnics and that it’s a UK indie is something else.  It has a paltry but decent script, a cracking plot, some amazing action scenes and blinding martial arts from Scott Adkins and Kelly Hu.  I was gutted that this didn’t get a wide cinema release.  But having thought about it, I think The Tournament came along too late.  We’ve had decent UK genre films for years now and finally when the industry delivers on an old promise, we’d all moved on to more sophisticated fare. Dare I say that men’s preferences have shifted towards the hooligan / gangster cycle that dominates.  Teens are catered for by a regular diet of horror.  Rare reviews of this movie have been fairly uncharitable writing it off as being too straightforward DTV material.  They are jaded snobs. There’s so much to recommend and it gets extra points for setting Hard Target in your street.

The plot as it stands has been done a few times, with variations on the theme, but essentially this is Surviving The Game and Hard Target set in Middlesborough. Said town has the largest concentration of CCTV cameras in the world.  So its a perfect location for a top secret tournament run by an all powerful, all seeing kabal.  Every seven years 30 of the world’s top assassins compete by picking each other off down to the last man standing.  The prize is a huge amount of money and the games are financed by high stakes gambling. The townsfolk are oblivious and neither are the police, they become collateral and subsequent deaths are brushed under the carpet.  Matters are complicated when one contestant, Bogart (SEBASTIAN FOUCAN – CASINO ROYALE) puts his tracker into an alcoholic’s Priest’s (ROBERT CARLYLE – RAVENOUS) coffee.  Unharmed and unaware, he becomes hunted by the remaining assassins.  How will he survive? Well that’s predictable too because our heroine, Lai Lai Zhen (KELLY HU – SURF NINJAS) believes his story and takes him under wing, eventhough there can be one survivor of the contest.  Amongst those up against her and the Priest are the reigning champion, Harlow (VING RHAMES), American serial killing psycho, Miles Slade (IAN SOMERHALDER) and Petrov; (SCOTT ADKINS – RE-KILL) as a Russian Kickboxing Mercenary.

The film cracks along at a fair pace and other name actors like Craig Conway (FOUR) and John Lynch (CAL) are sent to the gun club in the sky without a fuss.  The set pieces are creative and exciting. There is very little slow motion or wire work which marrs this  kind of flick, and the casting of genuine physical talents like Foucan, Hu and Adkins give the fight scenes real verve and a compelling reason to cheer our heroine on. The dialogue between the priest and Zhen is economic but who has time to share stories when you have the world’s best killers on your ass.  Their dynamic still works. The spice is added when the Priest is added to the list of contestants when the Games Master (LIAM CUNNINGHAM – HARRY BROWN) realises what’s happened.  The ending has no easy fix but it’s sensibly played and an action climax on a dual carriage involving high speed lorries and a double decker bus is shot perfectly.  It may be small scale compared to spectacles in James Bond or Die Hard but it sure delivers what it can.  The makers have clearly kept the lid on their red markers at script stage and resisted putting a line through the action scenes, writing them off as too expensive.  They’ve had a bash and won.  There’s no time in the plot for anyone to put in career best performances but for what it is The Tournament is great mid-tier action film.  It’s a bit old hat but I’m happy that it arrived. My only grumble is a small one and that’s that the great Scott Adkins part was too small.  I wanted more fight scenes between him and Kelly Hu. Grrr.

7.5 out of 10 – Slight but right.  Simple mid-tier action. Enough originality in the fights and action to cover up for a slender script .  Enjoyable, old school action in the Hard Target mold, only set in Middlesborough, like man.


  • Robert Carlyle: Porno, The Legend of Barney Thompson, 24 (TV), Summer, 28 Weeks Later, Flood, Eragon, The Mighty Celt, Black & White (2002), Once Upon a Time In The Midlands, The 51st State,  There’s Only One Jimmy Grimble, The Beach, Angela’s Ashes. James Bond – The World Is Not Enough, Ravenous, Plunkett & Macleane, Face, The Full Monty, Trainspotting, Go Now, Priest (1995), Riff-Raff, Silent Scream
  • Kelly Hu: Arrow (TV), Warehouse 13 (TV), The Vampire Diaries (TV), X Men 2, Cradle 2 The Grave, The Scorpion King, Surf Ninjas
  • Ving Rhames: Mission Impossible 5, Pirahna 3DD, Pirahna 3D Death Race 3, Mission Impossible 1 to 4, Surrogates, Dawn Of The Dead (2004), Day Of The Dead (2008), I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry, Idlewild, Dark Blue, Baby Boy, Bringing Out The Dead, Entrapment, Out Of Sight, Bodycount, Con Air, Rosewood, Dangerous Ground, Striptease, Kiss Of Death, Pulp Fiction, The Saint Of Fort Washington, Dave, Blood In – Blood Out, Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot, The People Under The Stairs, Homicide, Jacob’s Ladder
  • Liam Cunningham: Pursuit (2016), Noble, Let Us Prey, Game of Thrones (TV), Dr Who (TV),  The Numbers Station, Good VibrationsCenturion, The Mummy 3, Dog Soldiers, Game Of Thrones (TV), Clash Of The Titans (2010), Harry Brown, The Escapist, The Guard, Safe House, War Horse, Blood – The Last Vampire, Hunger, The Wind That Shakes The Barley, The League Of Gentlemen Movie, Jude, A little Princess, The War Of The Buttons
  • Ian Somerhalder: The Anomaly, The Vampire Diaries (TV), Lost (TV), Pulse, The Rules Of Attraction
  • Sebastian Foucan: The Antwerp Dolls, James Bond – Casino Royale
  • Craig Conway: Blood ShotScintillaAirborne,  7Lives Four, Devil’s Playground,  How To Stop Being a Loser, Doomsday,
  • Andy Nyman:  Bone In The Throat, Chuggington (voice)(TV), Automata, ABCs of Death 2, Shaun The Sheep Movie (voice), Peaky Blinders (TV), Chuggington (TV) (voice), Kick Ass 2, Black Death, Dead Set (TV), Death At a Funeral (2007), The Brothers Bloom, Severance
  • Iddo Goldberg: The Last Passenger, Unmade Beds, Secret Diary Of a Call Girl (TV), Defiance
  • John Lynch: ScintillaPrivate Peaceful, The Hot PotatoGhosted, 13HRsBlack Death, Isolation, Sliding Doors, The Secret Of Roan Inish, The Secret Garden (1993), In The Name Of The Father, Angel Baby, Best, This Is The Sea, Some Mother’s Son, Moll Flanders (1996),  Nothing Personal, Princess Caraboo, Edward II, Hardware, Cal
  • Scott Adkins: Undisputed 4, The Eliminators, Criminal (2016), Grimsby, Jarhead 3, Legendary, Re-Kill, Green Street 3, Universal Soldier 4, Zero Dark Thirty, The Expendables 2, Assassination Games, X Men: Wolverine, Undisputed 3, Undisputed 2, The Bourne Ultimatum, Eastenders (TV), Doctors (TV)

One thought on “THE TOURNAMENT

  1. Joe Pesci II’s grand review!


    THE TOURNAMENT proves that the British can make just as dumb action movies as the Yanks.

    So every seven years a bunch of assassins and a cabal of secret media folk and rich people descend on an unassuming moderately sized town somewhere in the world in order to take part in the unimaginatively named tournament (or THE TOURNAMENT) from which only one assassin will survive (and win a large stash of cash). This time, it’s Middlesbrough. Imagine the planning meeting.
    ‘Why Middlesbrough?’
    ‘There’s more CCTV there than in the rest of the world.’
    ‘So we’re bound to get caught?’
    ‘Not if we control the town’s CCTV network ourselves.’
    ‘Can we do that?’
    ‘Sure. There’s two of us. What could go wrong?’
    ‘What if one of our contestants gives us the slip and we mistake a priest for an assassin whilst someone else tries to work out I killed his pregnant wife?’
    ‘That’s just Middlesbrough on a Saturday night sir.’

    Such is the plot for THE TOURNAMENT. But there are rules. Of thirty competitors, only one will survive, and they’ve all got tracking devices / bombs sewn into them so that they can (a) find each other and (b) get blown up when time runs out. And they’ve got 24 hours. Having set the rules of the game, the film then backgrounds the tournament and concentrates on (a) Ving Rhames looking for revenge, (b) Kelly Hu looking for redemption and (c) Robert Carlyle looking for a drink.

    Rhames plays the world’s best assassin (indeed he’s THE TOURNAMENT’s winner from seven years ago), but one who seems to have a very poor grasp on the job description of ‘assassin’. He doesn’t seem to get the whole ‘someone pays you to kill someone’ bit, which seems a bit odd, particularly as he spends most of the film trying to work out who killed his wife and why. In fact the only reason he’s taking part in THE TOURNAMENT is to find out the answer to this mystery. Let’s see if you can work it out: he won THE TOURNAMENT last time but didn’t want to come back for more. Now his wife’s dead, at the hands of one of the assassins taking part. Do you think it could possibly be one of THE TOURNAMENT’s organisers who came up with the plan? Yes? Did you work that out in about half a second? Poor old Ving takes about a hundred minutes of screen time and 24 hours of movie time to work it out. (For some reason he goes after the wrong bloke for ages, though I suspect that was just an excuse to go to a strip club.)

    Robert Carlyle plays an alcoholic priest who gets mistaken for an elite assassin. Yes. Fortunately Kelly Hu is on hand. Being a lady assassin she’s kind and doesn’t kill him. But she has a dark secret which I shall reveal after the next bracket (she killed Rhames’ pregnant wife!) and is feeling bad about it.

    Among the supporting cast we find John Lynch, still labouring under the misconception that he’s the star (and long may he continue to do so – this is the sort of dedication I like). Elsewhere, Craig Conway’s character is a cheat – he started before the whistle went off. Iddo Goldberg and Andy Nyman play computer bods who double as a kind of cross between cheerleaders and Greek chorus, telling us how awesome everything is, and attempting to direct our reactions. Ian Somerhalder is enthusiastic if twenty years too young (maybe they wanted Michael Madsen?). Liam Cunningham looks like he can’t believe how much money he’s getting paid to spout this drivel.

    All the fighting and running around and car chases and explosions and gore and shooting and martial arts stuff is done as competently as you would hope from Hollywood, let alone Britain. In terms of all that stuff, you wouldn’t really think, hmmm low budget British attempt to ape the Americans. There are a lot of set pieces, as you would expect, one of which takes place in, on and around a double decker bus. (There’s also some nonsense in various streets, a strip club, a church, and a petrol station.)The ‘bus stopping’ moment is a comic gem of deathless hilarity. (That’s sarcasm by the way.) The bus driver was the most interesting character in the whole film. He only has about two lines of dialogue but they’re worth it. His dedication to duty is astonishing. The bus skids to a halt because there’s an obstacle in the road. Sadly the bus is going too fast to stop in time (this is improbable in the first place but never mind). This means that said obstacle (an assassin about to do some assassinating against our heroine assassin) gets splattered all over the road. A few moments later the nice assassin who we’re meant to be rooting for requisitions / steals the bus. ‘What about the passengers?’ asks the crestfallen driver, who seems (a) to have forgotten that he splattered someone to gory death thirty seconds earlier but (b) has a truly inspiring dedication to delivering his passengers to their destinations. I hope that in THE TOURNAMENT 2 we see the bus driver steal a car and give chase, desperate to regain his bus. On doing so, and on surveying the damage, he then swears vengeance against Carlyle and Hu, and hunts them down, perhaps using the guise of an insanely complicated game to aid him.

    Here are a few of the many niggles the film throws up. Would any billionaire dare set foot in Middlesbrough? Are the twists at the end really twists given the straight-line-obviousness of them? How many assassins are there in the world if one organisation can harvest 29 of them every seven years, for fun? In a bid to (a) prove that she’s not so bad in spite of the whole pregnant-woman-killing-thing, and (b) save Robert Carlyle, and (c) win the game by staying out of everyone else’s way, Kelly Hu drives for hours to get as far away from Middlesbrough town centre as possible, but the other assassins catch up with her in about five minutes. Are there any headphones which would prevent you from hearing a Texan explode (literally)? There’s an incredibly elastic final fifteen minutes (it’s worse than in Hanna-Barbera cartoons where the water’s meant to be rising but stays at the same level).

    Is THE TOURNAMENT actually a socialist critique on the consumerist society? One can’t help but wonder as the question is posed loudly in every scene. Here we see the rich (who do not really pay for their misdeeds though some of them may need therapy) watch skilled workers (desperate, underpaid or just plain greedy?) maraud around trying to kill each other whilst also laying waste to a town in economic difficulties. The satire is unavoidable. Surely this is an angry film complaining against the fact that the rich always win, and it is the poor who pay for it. Or then again it might just be a really dumb shoot-em-up.

    If you like brain-vacuuming carnage-filled films with a ridiculously arbitrary set of rules then this is the film for you.

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