Sony // 2006 // 96 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // May 2nd, 2006
The assassination was only the beginning.
Cuba Gooding Jr. (Jerry Maguire), James Woods (Vampires), and Angie Harmon (Law and Order) star in this high-powered whodunit, which tracks a conspiracy behind a presidential murder. And jeez if it's not one of the better direct-to-DVD flicks I've seen.
Gooding Jr. plays Alex Thomas, a crack Secret Service agent, and one of the President's closest confidantes. While escorting the Pres to a major public function, Thomas is horrified to notice, at the last second, a man with a gun in the crowd -- and is powerless to stop the bullet. The President goes down and later dies on the operating table. Thomas, along with a stunned nation, grieves.
Committed to figuring out the truth behind the attack, enterprising freelance journalist Kate Crawford (Harmon) starts asking questions and poking her nose behind-the-scenes. Thing is, everyone she talks to about the killer meets a grisly end. Something big is behind the assassination, and there is a frantic, sinister movement in place to tie up all loose ends.
Crawford feels the heat herself and enlists the help of Thomas, currently drunk and strung out. But after their conversation is halted by an explosive in his boat, Thomas ponies up for battle, determined to track down the cabal behind everything. What he isn't prepared for is the truth.
End Game, despite its bland title and packaging, is actually a much-better than average thriller. Across the board, I was impressed with it: acting, plot, action sequences, directing. And I won't even qualify that compliment with "for a straight-to-video" suffix. Top to bottom, End Gameis just a well-done action film.
The filmmakers (aided perhaps by the pull of executive producer Brett Ratner), anchored their thriller with a solid cast of recognizable names: Gooding Jr., Woods, Harmon, Anne Archer as the First Lady, and Burt Reynolds in a weighty cameo as a general. Benito Martinez of The Shield and ubiquitous bad guy Peter Greene (Redfoot from The Usual Suspects) also pop up. It's a solid assemblage, and though Harmon and Gooding Jr. shoulder most of the workload, everyone delivers.
Thankfully, this talent isn't wasted on a mediocre script. The serpentine plot is twisty enough to stay engaging, and right up to the final seven minutes the film did a good job of concealing the big reveal. Granted, the climax was a bit cryptic and the truth behind the assassination represented a serious suspension of disbelief, but the narrative never lost steam cruising to the end.
On the action side of things, I was diggin' it. Director Andy Cheng, who also co-wrote the film, has put together some great set-pieces, and I found myself authentically excited by the mayhem. Foot chases, car crashes, a big warehouse shootout, an underwater grudge match, and plenty of big, pretty explosions kept the flick rocketing forward, and Cheng did a find job mixing it up. My favorite: as Thomas pursues a fleeing bad guy in an SUV chase, the bad guy takes out his gun and starts shooting at oncoming traffic, eventually forcing Thomas to stop when he gets a school bus in his sights. A nice spin on the hostage cliché.
Speaking of cliché, I have to offer some praise to Cheng and co-writer J.C. Pollock. They included some genre-defying bits in their film that really scored points for me. First, as Thomas chases after a villain through busy streets with his gun drawn -- as we've all seen before in cop movies -- a couple of girls actually do what any sensible person would do, and call the cops. It's a plot point that eventually pays off in a key action scene, but isn't it nice to see a few extras act normally and rationally? Then, later, when Thomas and his Secret Service pal are about to storm the bad guys' hideout, he recommends that Kate stay behind in the car because it might be dangerous. And you know what, instead of bitching about being left behind and forcing the trained agent to babysit her in the middle of a violent firefight just for some cheap, dramatic effect, she -- gasp! -- agrees that maybe a civilian journalist without a bulletproof vest shouldn't be trading gunfire with professional killers. These were small things, sure, but after idiot moments have become staples of a genre, departures are noted -- and appreciated.
End Game does come to us in a skimpy disc: 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen and a 5.1 Dolby Digital mix, but no extras except for a few trailers.
Good action, good story, good acting; End Game stands up to the sad record of DVD-only thrillers and provides some real thrills.
Show me the not guilty!
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
Running Time: 96 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Rated R