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Game of Death Review


While showing much promise – and being fronted by Blade's very own Wesley Snipes – Game of Death is a prime example of a missed opportunity...

A still of Wesley Snipes in 'Game of Death' (2011)

On the 10th December 2010, prison inmate No. 43355-018, aka Wesley Snipes, reported to a Pennsylvanian prison to begin a three-year incarceration for tax evasion. However, before Snipes started his ‘bird’ – one which many feel has been totally blown out of proportion because of his celebrity status – he managed to squeeze in one quick release – enter Game of Death. In it, Snipes plays Secret Ops employee agent Marcus, a hitman sent to take out an arms dealer and the mutual fund that is financing him. However, two of his fellow CIA operatives have other plans, and Marcus eventually becomes locked in a deadly game of cat and mouse with his former associates and their now corrupt CIA operation.

The premise of the film is this – Agent Marcus (Snipes) is a loyal, cold-blooded hitman for the CIA who has spent his life taking orders and killing as instructed. However, what sets him apart from his fellow agents is his underlying hint of conscience, one that ensures his total devotion and loyalty to whoever he is working for. So, despite working as a double-agent for the CIA when assigned as the bodyguard of arms dealer Frank Smith, Marcus still works on a premise of loyalty towards his weapon-dealing associate; and it is this devotion that makes him oblivious to the betrayal going on around him. When Frank has a heart attack, Marcus drives him – under gunfire from his former allies – to the hospital, the setting of the following siege and subsequent location of much of the film. Unfortunately, there are only so many necks Marcus can break and the substantial outnumbering soon leaves him unconscious and client-less. From here, Marcus sets off as a one-man killing machine, determined to collect both his client and retribution for the betrayal he has suffered.

While Game of Death may not live up to the standard of some of Wesley’s most memorable performances (see the Blade trilogy and Demolition Man), it does have a number of endearing qualities to it. First off is the presentation of the story from the film’s main protagonist, Marcus himself. Instead of simply running through, the story reveals itself within a confessional, after Marcus seeks the sanctuary of a Catholic church. Struggling to come to terms with his now fugitive status, our lead is invited to repent and seek forgiveness from the Lord. The interaction between Marcus and his priest of choice – played by Ernie Hudson – is sincere, if not a little far-fetched. I understand that there is little a priest will not have heard, but to sit through a confession that starts with “I am... a killer. I remember the first time I killed someone...” and remain void of even the slightest amount of fear or judgement is somewhat hard to believe.

The film also benefits from more than a handful of impressive action montages, with Snipes successfully snapping, dislocating and wounding his way through his character's fairly frequent confrontations. While lacking the sort of budget required for the expensive explosions and CGI-based fight scenes that we – the consumers – have come to expect, Game of Death is littered with beautifully choreographed action scenes and does the basics as well as any other title from the action genre. I for one never knew there were so many different ways to break a man’s neck and, should this film find itself in financial turmoil, it may have great success as a Dummies' guide to neck breaking.

Unfortunately, while harbouring a numbering of positives, Game of Death repeatedly shoots itself in the foot, many of which could so easily have been avoided. For example, in a film that lasts a total of 122 minutes – with five of those minutes constituting a full, 14-15 bullet shoot-out on a stairwell – Marcus reloads just once. Regardless of special effects or CGI, an action film must get the basics right, and it doesn’t come much more basic than knowing to reload a weapon when out of ammo. It’s frustrating more than anything because in scenes such as the stairwell shoot-out, you find yourself engrossed in the issue of unlimited ammo rather than the scene itself.

Secondly, Game of Death regularly fails to explain its flashbacks. For instance, Marcus regularly appears to be suffering from a lack of concentration – occasionally becoming dizzy and disorientated – but, despite the suggestions of diabetes, the true diagnosis is never revealed. As if this wasn’t bad enough, we are left totally in the dark as to how the betrayal came to be. How was it organised? Who was involved? Why did the police never show up to arrest an unconscious Marcus, despite its corrupt chief sending all available squads to the hospital? – So many questions, all of which remain unanswered.

However, while these are certainly frustrating, it is the anticlimactic nature of this straight-to-DVD adventure that most irritates. Take the start of the film – we are thrown straight into a carefully coordinated, CIA assassination with a promising twist, all of which sets up an exciting opening. However, the next five minutes – as I noted when watching – is pointless crap, adding nothing to the opening minutes and condemning this film to mediocrity. Unfortunately, the film saves the worst till last – Marcus’ final stand-off against his backstabbing protégé, Zander (Gary Daniels). For over an hour and a half, the film has been building up to this moment, the traditional battle of good versus evil; and yet the fight that follows is just five minutes long, most of which is dialogue. They circle, they talk, and they throw a couple of big hits, all of which is leading up to a big finish... yes? Wrong.  Instead, Marcus lands a handful of knocks before resorting to his beloved neck break... and that’s it. Disappointing is an understatement.

Like many before it, Game of Death will inevitably become a bargain-bucket favourite, nestling amongst the likes of Zonad and 2010: Moby Dick, before fading into obscurity. However, this should not have been the case. Everything was there – a well-known cast, impressively choreographed stunts and more than a pinch of originality – but Game of Death stumbled at the most basic of requests. As a one-off watch, the film provides more than enough to warrant a suitably priced rental. However, do stick to renting this title, because Game of Death lacks the depth needed to justify a full purchase.

3 stars

The Game of death is released on the 21st February.


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#1 Unlimited Ammo peter e 2012-03-17 19:05
So wrong.. Did no one, during the shooting of the film even think that guns require reloading. Anyhow, I liked Snipes' kill scenes

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