It would be easy to blame the ineptitude of “Game of Death” on its most disinterested star, Wesley Snipes. The latest entry in his string of career-killing DTV actioners, Snipes is intensely stationary here, stiffly going through the neck-snapping motions while paying moderate attention to the development of his character. Truthfully, Snipes is a bore, but director Giorgio Serafini is the man responsible for the film’s transition from a mindless bruiser to an unsightly wreck.
Handed a mission to snuggle up to powerful mobster Smith (Robert Davi), C.I.A. Agent Marcus (Wesley Snipes) heads undercover, working his mark to the day of arrest. Unfortunately, rogue agents Zander (Gary Daniels, trying very hard to look hard) and Floria (Zoe Bell, wasted on a nothing role) have arrived to ruin the big bust, stepping in to kill Marcus and steal the monumental loot Smith is sitting on. When a medical emergency arises, the confrontation is moved to a Detroit hospital, where Marcus hopes to evade capture and suss out the situation, while Zander endeavors to keep his sinister plan on track.
“Game of Death” is a straightforward story of backstabbing and greed, but Serafini refuses to accept the simplistic reality of his low-budget production. To create an impression of introspective scale to the picture, the director orders up numerous editing tricks and film stock switches, with the movie slightly resembling “Natural Born Killers,” only without the peyote-chewing madness that lent purpose to the visual exaggeration. Here, Serafini aims to beef up meager ingredients with his useless ornamentation, eager to wring suspense out of thin air by tinkering with hallucinogenic cinematographic escapades, with every last trick intrusive, interfering with the brute force the film conjures up through feisty choreography that plays to the natural martial art abilities of the actors.
“Game of Death” looks ugly, a fact reinforced by the picture’s bland use of two measly locations, with the entire film taking place inside a Detroit hospital and a bank vault. A director with more imagination would likely create a furious “Die Hard” vibe that follows Marcus around as he picks off the baddies one by one, using the layout of the building to his advantage. Serafini isn’t nearly that prepared. Instead, the picture flops around from scene to scene, striving to make characters standing around with guns suspenseful. The scripted taunts are toothless and the gunplay anemic, tossing a wet blanket on the promise of stimulating heroism, with Marcus less proactive in the ass-kicking department than expected. In fact, it seems survival is almost a hassle to this shadowy guy, making his eventual triumphs more of a checklist experience than something to cheer on.
The AVC encoded image (2.35:1 aspect ratio) presentation is purposely awry, with the look of the film handed a drained appearance, almost consistently trapped in sepia tones. Color isn’t a concern, with most hues washed out to fit the artistic choice. What’s here is capably separated and pronounced, with outstanding detail that truly registers the finer points of faces and places when the camera manages to sit still and study the particulars. Shadow detail is crisp and supportive, excellent with fabrics and hardware textures. Despite the filmmaker’s attempt to block the view, when the BD hits a stride of stability, the quality of the image is impressive.
The 5.1 DTS-HD sound mix holds to boisterous affairs with expected loudness, using the directionals well as bullets whiz around the frame and the characters run through tight stairwells and hallways. It’s an occasionally shrill noise lacking fullness, but a persuasive track that plays happily with grotesque sound effects, including the crunching of battered spines and necks. Scoring is loose, never making a profound impact. Low-end is active with car crashes and assorted mayhem, while dialogue exchanges are dutifully tended to, with needed frontal verve to make the lines stick perfectly.
English, English SDH, and Spanish subtitles are offered.
“Behind-the-Scenes” (10:16) is a basic offering of cast and crew interviews and on-set footage of the filmmaking event, merged to offer a feel for the stunt effort and the control of the director, who swooped in at the last minute to save a dying production. Lots of platitudes are passed around, along with a plug for a downtown Detroit Westin location.
A Trailer has not been included.
Personality is ephemeral here, regulated to the flashback framing device that has Marcus recounting his sins to a receptive priest (Ernie Hudson). Of course, the immediate reveal that Marcus survives the whole ordeal destroys the suspense of the film, but I’m not sure Serafini ever noticed. Or cares. As long as Snipes cracks a few necks, guns are discharged every 10 minutes, and the goofy visual scheme is tended to, little else matters to this filmmaker.