Assassins are actually quite a boring subject when you think about it. Sure they kill people, but that also makes it difficult for writers to make them likeable. The only way they can make the audience like them is by having them kill what Donald Trump would call “bad hombres”. Another way to make them likeable is to give them a depressing life and a shot at redemption. This worked for Leon, who took Matilda under his arms in the classic movie with the same name. Leon is one of the few movies about assassins that have actually reached a classic and/or cult status. Most movies are instantly forgettable like Jason Statham’s Mechanic movies or Assassins starring Sylvester Stallone and Antonio Banderas.
Assassination Games is no different as it’s a low budget straight-to-video starring the once box-office draw Jean-Claude van Damme.
Even though the title promises us games, you should not expect a whole lot of fun. In fact, there isn’t a game in the movie, so that is a bit of a lie. We do get two assassins though, which should count for something.
The story is quite simple: Two assassins want to kill the same bad hombre. One because of the paycheck, the other because he wants to avenge his comatose wife. After crossing paths they form an uneasy alliance as they agree to work together to take the target out. Throw in some complications in the form of dirty Interpol agents and an abused prostitute as a love interest for Van Damme and you have all the ingredients for a simple, but fun action flick starring two great action stars.
Did I say two? Yes I did!
The other assassin is played by none other than Scott Adkins. Over these past few months I have become quite the Adkins aficionado after seeing him do his thing in Undisputed 2 and 3. After that I’ve watched a couple of his other movies like the Ninja movies and Close Range. Browsing through his filmography I found out he was already a recurring actor in movies I had seen. The Expendables 2, Zero Dark Thirty and The Bourne Ultimatum to name a few. Adkins is a martial artist who needs a director who understands what he can bring to a movie. Sadly few directors apparently have that skill as Adkins is much more interesting and fun to watch when he’s kicking ass with his hand and feet, than when he’s using a firearm.
That also goes for other action stars like Jean-Claude. This is the guy who became famous doing 360 degrees spin kicks. Sadly both these guys are, with the exception of a few scenes, put in shoot-outs. The cover of the movie does give that away a bit, but it was a bit of a disappointment that the movie didn’t feature more hand-to-hand combat. I’ve seen this movie once before in 2012 and if this movie did justice to Adkins’ skills he would have been on my radar from that moment on.
That doesn’t mean Assassination Games is bad, just underwhelming in that area. For a simple action flick it’s quite good actually. Adkins and Van Damme have a good chemistry together and both their characters are given just enough depth to make us care about them even though they’re standard action movie tropes. Adkins is avenging his wife and Van Damme is the loner who finds a kindred spirit in the prostitute next door he takes under his wing. Like Matilda was to Leon, she is his path to redemption. Bottom line: this is one of the better direct-to-video movies on Jean-Claude’s resume.
Aside from the absence of really good fight scenes there is plenty of other stuff keeping this movie from deserving a better rating. One of the things that immediately stands out is the color grading. The whole movie has been given a sepia tone which is pretty ugly. Assassination Games looks the same as J.C.V.D. but I didn’t like it then either. It’s probably done to emphasize how these assassins lead lives devoid of any glamour, but that could have been done in plenty of other ways.
Van Damme also puts his son and daughter in most of his recent productions. His daughter Bianca plays the comatose wife of Adkins while son Kristopher is one of the corrupt Interpol agents. The latter is excruciatingly bad as his line delivery is terrible. I often got the impression English wasn’t his first language as is the case with his dad. Despite the thick accent, Jean-Claude gives a much better performance. With his worn looking exterior Van Damme is convincing as an assassin who has nothing much to live for.
Assassination Games is the kind of movie that isn’t a fulfilling meal, but rather a nice snack in between meals.