This is the first 'Wesley Snipes' movie I've reviewed here. To be honest, I've not been impressed with his previous DTV outings (although i did enjoy the 'off-beat' HARD LUCK...which most people seem to dislike?) So it's with brave trepidation that I dived head-on into his latest release GAME OF DEATH. The title alone is enough to make any self-respecting Bruce Lee fan piss-shit out their a-holes.....But it would be interesting to see if Snipes could invest a bit more time and effort on this project, with jail looming over his head (plus i picked it up 'new' for 99p)
Snipes plays 'Agent Marcus' a tough as nails CIA operative, who (together with his elite team) does the 'dirty-work' for the government, by eliminating those undesirable kingpins/drug barons/gun-runners/czars (blah, blah, blah...Kneecap Hill) Marcus' team includes Zander (Gary Daniels) and Flora (Zoe Bell) and the movie opens with the team taking out an arms dealer in New York. But for all his ruthless efficiency, Marcus seems 'Burnt-Out' (tm) and in need of 'Redemption' (tm)
("Are they taxes in heaven, father?")
We cut to Detroit, and see Marcus hiding out in a car, watching a kindly neighbourhood Reverend, Clarence (Ernie Hudson) playing basketball with the local kids. Marcus follows the Rev to his church, and offers him a cool million dollars, if he'll sit and listen to his confession. Clarence admits that the neighbourhood could do with the money, and lends a sympathetic ear to Marcus' problems.
("Your place or mine?")
Snipes goes into flashback mode, and we see him being congratulated for the earlier New York 'hit' and given new instructions for the next job. It seems the CIA want Marcus to infiltrate the world of 'finance-dealer/Gun-Runner' Frank Smith (Robert Davi) which will lead up the corporate ladder to 'backer' Redvale Industries. Upon earning their trust, he is ordered to terminate both parties (forewarned with the usual CIA failure/unaccountability bullshit)
(Deplorable Flora & Zander meander)
Marcus briefs both Zander and Flora on the details, and (six months later) he is soon in the employment and confidence of Smith. During a flight, Marcus realises that despite the many scare stories....Smith may not be the "Mean Bastard" the CIA have painted him to be. Marcus escorts Smith to a meeting/payoff ($100m) with Redvale. But greed has gotten the better of both Zander and Flora who (sick of playing second fiddle) decide to doublecross Marcus and bag the money for themselves.
("Must be weird not having anyone come on ya'?")
Matters are made worse when Smith has a heart attack in the back of the limo, and Marcus rushes him to the hospital (strange, given his objective?) whilst dodging gunfire from Zander and Co, who want him alive and well for his payday with Redvale. Marcus has his guns confiscated by hospital security...But Zander and his goons are fully armed, and ready to kill anyone that gets in their way.....Let the 'Game' begin.
Marcus rumbles the double cross and takes out several of Zanders henchmen (in probably the movies standout fight, a brutally efficient 'Seagal-like' snap fest in a psychiatric ward, replete with 'off-key' piano playing and screams from it's frightened patients...reminiscent of the 'Crazy Village' segment from GYMKATA) Flora chases Marcus all around the hospital (probably the most deserted 'institution' since HALLOWEEN II) offering up "Join Us" (tm) remarks, whilst at the same time, trying to shoot the shit out of him.
(Davi pondered his stay at he 'Bond-Villain-Retirement-Home')
Zander finds Smith, and forces the head nurse, Rachael to keep him alive (by fair means or foul) long enough to complete his meeting with Redwood. Rachael (under Zanders threat of "You either give him a shot...or take one yourself") explains that the cardiac catheterization procedure will take 30 minutes, before Smith can be moved (allowing more time for Marcus to fuck up more henchmen in the meantime)
(Wesley and his cell-mate)
And fuck-them-up he does, but after another round of shoot-outs, Flora gets the upper-hand and captures him. Zander gives Marcus the old "We could have been great together" bullshit, and despite having the opportunity to kill him....doesn't! (which ruins a lot of well built-up credibility, at this point) instead Zander decides to frame Marcus for all the hospital carnage, leading the CIA on a wild goose chase....whilst giving himself time to get Smith to his payday with Redvale.
("Are those Argyle socks?")
Redvale (replete with 'goombah' mafioso demeanor) smells a rat at Smiths new concerned chaperone's, but is soon outgunned, and forced to proceed to the vault, for the $100m. However a framed and furious Marcus steals an ambulance and heads over to Redvales for a final showdown with Zander and Co. Rachael gets caught in a 'Mexican Standoff'.....Smith takes a stand...and Revdale takes a knife in the back. Marcus ploughs through the remaining bad guys, before chasing Zander up to the rooftop for a tasty rumble...which barely leaves the badguy a leg to stand on (literally)
("Where's Woody Harrelson when I need him?")
With the 'Game' over (but our hero still wanted by the CIA) we then flash forward back to the church, where father Clarence implores Marcus to "Have faith" before launching into a (well-needed) Lords Prayer (Amen to that...you fucking atheists!) Marcus leaves the money with the padre, and returns to watch the neighbourhood kids play basketball as therapy for his 'redemption' (and probably for Snipes to reflect on his prison-less 'Box-Office' days of WHITE MEN CAN'T JUMP)
GAME OF DEATH is a pretty kick-ass movie (and I think my low expectations only helped matters) The cast is good (about time someone had a bit of faith in Daniels) and it's great to see Robert Davi again. I don't know if Snipes' IRS troubles plagued him during filming, but it added to his performance of a troubled, haunted man. And the fight scenes were brutal (and as mentioned, 'vintage-Seagal-Like') and despite my preference towards the psychiatric ward rumble...the final scrap between Daniels and Snipes didn't disappoint either.
The negatives being the (almost) non-stop 'avid fart'/black and white filters/overlays/slo-mo/speed-up techniques that pepper the first half (but thankfully wane off at the 40 minute mark) And Zanders plan/motives were also full of confusing plot holes:
A) Why did he open fire on a guy he (ultimately) had to keep alive?
B) Why not wait utill Smith had the money, before attempting the sting?
C) Why not kill Marcus when he had a clear chance?
Plot holes aside, the movie has enough plus points to outweigh the negative aspects. The 12 minute 'Making-Of' also highlights the fact that (cash-struck) Detroit has great 'Tax Incentives' for film-makers (wow.... an action movie that Michael Moore could be proud of?) and it's basic one (or two) main settings adds to the claustrophobic tension, that most Wesley Snipes films lack. Plus his IRS problems prevented the star from leaving the country, meaning this movie was NOT filmed in Romania.
Final thoughts: If you watch only one GAME OF DEATH, make it the 1978 Bruce Lee (cut-and-paste-ploitation) classic (which is still light years ahead of any 'homage' from any 'lantern-jawed hack director') However, if you want a brutal, good looking action thriller (despite early headache inducing avid farts) with a above average DTV cast....Wesley Snipes finally delivers the goods. I'm now looking to acquire the movie on Blu-Ray (if that's any kind of recommendation?) despite having 50+ discs and still not owning a player