Instructions to the Game of Death drinking game:
Step 1: Count up to five shots fired from Wesley Snipes hand gun.
Step 2. Take a shot for every bullet fired without a reload or additional ammo picked up.
Step 3: ???
Step 4: Get hammered.
Sadly, no, this is not a remake of the final Bruce Lee film, although you can make a drinking game out of that one too by taking a shot each time a blatantly fake Lee appears on screen. That’s getting ahead of ourselves though.
Game of Death is stupidly simple, with a CIA agent (Snipes) protecting an international arms dealer (Robert Davi) against rogue CIA agents inside a hospital. That arms dealer’s name? Frank Smith. Apologies to all of the Frank Smith’s out there, but that’s the height of lazy screenwriting.
Action is blasé, performed adequately, but then edited incomprehensibly. The number of jump cuts, slow motion shots, super-imposed footage, and freeze frames is hysterically high, an attempt to add style to a film without any. The book end street basketball games have more pizazz than any of the shoot-outs or martial arts showcases.
Game of Death was shot in Detroit, although the effects of that shoot are not felt anywhere within the film. The city needed a boost, and this direct-to-video clunker doesn’t do much for its image.
Nothing here is actually redeemable, unique, memorable, or even fun. Clunky dialogue doesn’t make the backstabbing element interesting, and Snipes isn’t allowed much in the way of charisma. One of his few character traits (beyond his job) is that he is diabetic, a plot point that trails off without any purpose later in the movie. It’s a shame the rest of it doesn’t trail off into oblivion after 20 minutes.
Shot with the Red One, Game of Death may have the best black levels of any film to date amongst those movies captured with that digital cam. There’s always a sense of depth and dimensionality to the frame, although the material never challenges it too deeply either. Everything takes place in brightly lit corridors or streets.
Nothing can help the choices during color correction though, a disastrously ugly earthy orange plastered over every frame, the only counter being the equally bland teal in the backgrounds. Flesh tones are miserable and pasty, helped little in the mid-range where some of that digital appearance squeaks in. Detroit’s skyline is assaulted by the teal/orange look too, some of the buildings given color despite not actually having any in real life.
Contrast runs hot, particularly in those early church scenes. It’s enough to cleanse more detail than Snipe’s has tax evasion charges. Noise can dominate the frame, at times obviously intent, in others it’s more of a guess. Some bothersome shots are so dreadful, they look like optically zoomed stock footage (the church statue at 5:19 for example).
There is little doubt though that the close-ups are marvelous, rich in the highest fidelity detail. Despite the rather ugly stock/non-stock footage, every shot of Ernie Hudson and Snipes sitting in the pew is high-def perfection. The level of facial detail resolved is truly remarkable, and the clarity afforded by digital is in full effect. The rest of the movie is a give-and-take in this regard, while generally sitting on the better half.
Whoever mixed this must have decided the soundtrack was more important than gunfire, because the pitiful music is about the only thing hitting the surrounds. It’s a heavy handed effect too, entire solos ending up behind the listener.
As stated, bullets just sort of meander in the fronts. Shoot-outs have little going for them, shots that should pass through never completing their sonic journey, nor do they seem to ping off any objects. If the sound design is correct, they enter into some wormhole off camera.
Bass is minimal too, short of some ominous thuds during the opening credits and exaggerated heartbeat at 17:45. Guns usually have silencers, dulling their impact, and no heavy weapons or explosions come into play.
Six behind-the-scenes featurettes make it to 10-minutes combined, and as you can expect, lack any deep insight into the filming process. Some trailers and BD-Live access are the only other options.