Thursday, July 28, 2011

Assassination Games: Van Damme vs. Adkins

In 2010, former Interpol President Jackie Selebi of South Africa was convicted on corruption charges. Two hired killers will learn there is considerably more illegal skullduggery going on at the international law enforcement agency in Ernie Barbarash’s Assassination Games (trailer here), which opens this Friday in regions of the country that can get behind a straight forward action beat-down.

Assassins do not often forge friendly rivalries. Taciturn Vincent Brazil does not have friends, period. However, he finds himself working with the highly motivated Roland Flint to take out Eastern European mobster Polo Yakur. Brazil only wants to fulfill the million dollar contract Interpol secretly put on his head. Flint wants revenge for his wife Anna, who suffered severe brain damage at the hands of Yakur and his thugs.

It is not that simple though. Interpol released Yakur from prison to deliberately flush out Flint, their former contract killer of choice, who now knows too much. The international bureaucrats are even willing to team-up with the Euro Jabba the Hutt to take out their former man Flint. Further complicating matters, Brazil’s aborted first attempt claims the life of Yakur’s brother, leaving the gangster somewhat out of sorts. As a result, there will be a lot of double-crossing and revenge taking in AG.

At one point, Flint and Brazil engage in some absolutely brutal hand-to-hand combat, yet walk away unfazed as reluctant partners. Frankly, it is rather cool to see a film like this again. AG is much like the relatively ambitious action B-movies Van Damme made on his way up (who can resist Bloodsport when it pops up on cable?). In fact, Barbarash and cinematographer Phil Parmet give it a legitimately stylish look, nicely exploiting the faded grandeur of their Bucharest locations.

Playing to his strength, the Belgian Van Damme portrays Brazil with ice cold detachment up until the very end. Conversely, British martial arts star Scott Adkins seethes like a madman as Flint, often looking like he could fry an egg on his forehead. Indeed, it is rather a good pairing. For the hardcore, Adkins might have more street cred these days, but regardless, the two action stars certainly know how acquit themselves in a fight scene. (They are both rumored to be in the running for the prospective Expendables 2 as well.)

Perhaps AG’s coolest turn though comes from Andrew French as Brazil’s suavely duplicitous business agent, Nalbandian. The film is also something of a family affair for Van Damme, with his daughter Bianca Van Varenberg in the thankless role of comatose Anna Flint and his son Kristopher Van Varenberg trying to kill the old man as one of the crooked Interpol henchmen.

If not revolutionary, AG is a super-slick retro-action blast. However, depicting an intergovernmental agency like Interpol in such villainous terms is somewhat bold. Even the upcoming UN peacekeeping drama The Whistleblower largely cops out, shifting its outrage to Dyncorp, a Blackwater-like security contractor in a feat of cinematic jujitsu. Of course, AG is really just about beating the snot out of bad guys, which Adkins and Van Damme do quite well. Recommended for nostalgic action movie viewers and Adkins’ fans, AG opens this Friday (7/29) in Miami, Charlotte, the Mall of America, and cities across Texas.