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Saturday, 6 January 2018

Retro Review: Sudden Death (1995)

Sudden Death
Cast: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Powers Boothe, Raymond J. Barry, Dorian Harewood
Genre: Action
Worldwide Box Office Gross: over $64 million

Plot: A former fireman takes on a group of terrorists holding the vice president and others hostage during the 7th game of the NHL Stanley Cup finals 

'Far From Game Over, It's A Overly Decent Die Hard Clone'

B-movie Die Hard knock-off on ice, Sudden Death is like a grown-up version of the Mighty Ducks movies with the Ice Hockey theme meets Die Hard's terrorist plot-line where the hero is not dressed like a cop, but still goes on to save the hostages and kills the bad guys. 

The success of 1988's Die Hard spawned multiple clones propping up and appearing throughout the 1990s: some were very good to great (Under Siege, Jan De Bont's Speed - the on the road variation of a terrorist-based action film & Con Air), others were, well forgettable (Skyscraper, No Contest) but otherwise, they never really came close to Die Hard in terms of excellence. With Sudden Death, it's probably the closest to being the best movie of this type in this particular category. At the same time, as an overall action film, it still underwhelms and comes nowhere near as great as its big hitters in Die Hard, the many other Schwarzenneger offerings and Van Damme's very own Hard Target - still his landmark achievement for me - and thus forth it still fares more as a B-movie. Although the middle to the latter half with its action sequences certainly made up for it. 

1995's Sudden Death sees Jean-Claude Van Damme reuniting with Peter Hyams for the second time after 1994's sci-fi actioner, Timecop and the set-up and gradual build-up of the story, if not the setting and theme of Sudden Death is similar to that movie. 

Darren McCord is a firefighter, or make that ex-firefighter, who is still coming to terms with dealing with the image of a little girl dying in a fire and that he wasn't able to save her. Several years later, McCord is now working at an ice hockey stadium as a building inspector and doing little things like fixing the lightbulbs. Meanwhile, terrorists are holding the vice president and some other people hostage, whilst demanding around $1.5 billion. If their demands are not met, they intend to blow up the entire stadium, with Mccord the only person who can stop them.  

As a Van Damme film, this is not the most energetic, high-tempo and action-filled effort of his that I've watched with a slow-paced story and the build-up takes an awfully long time for the action to kick in. This came out at a period when Van Damme began his much-reported free fall & where he suffered a nervous breakdown. Once it does after 20 mins, it gets more interesting and though it isn't anything special, it so happens to be that Sudden Death is competent at best as an action flick that never takes itself too overly seriously. 

Powers Boothe's villain character is just nasty, although there is a scene where a female bad guy kidnaps the daughter, Emily, & Darren goes after the bad guy, who turns out to be man in drag (or is that an actual woman?), disguised as a penguin and the pair slug it out in the kitchen. That was one of my favourite parts of Sudden Death. The action, as sparse as it was, was for the most part really good; however with the story, it never really gripped me enough. And though it is hailed and praised as one of Van Damme's better movies, I just wasn't engrossed by the story and even with the Die Hard tag, the story isn't as good as Die Hard and the villain here has nothing on Alan Rickman's Hans Gruber. 

The pacing was another problem and it took a long while to get going, which took away some of my attention and enjoyment from the film. Which is a shame, because otherwise, I'd enjoy Sudden Death even more. But the little twists in the story were good to see, as they galvanise the plot and the last 30 mins redeemed things for me. For Van Damme, it's nice to see him as a Macgyer- type of action hero, by creating weapons out of objects, & besides being able to launch several of his high kicks to the villains' faces. The stunts are elaborate and bold and in Hyams, he knows how to shoot and direct action and do it extremely well.  

Final Verdict:

Still not as great as Hard Target or good as Double Impact, which are all top range, but it is several notches ahead of Double Team, Death Warrant and Nowhere To Run when it comes to Van Damme movies. It's just that I was little let down by the first half, but when the action kicked into gear later on, it was most satisfying and the last scene won me back. 

Sudden Death is solid and whilst Van Damme has starred in better movies, which is also not that many, as far as cult '90s action movies go, this deserves to be up there.


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