So once again we have survived.

Sudden Death

There are about three kinds of Jean-Claude Van Damme pictures in my opinion. There are the real experimental, artsy type like Double Team and Knock Off (the best kind), the real cheap and crappy ones like Cyborg and Double Impact (the worst kind), and the more expensive ones where he’s trying to become a more respectable mainstream action star (the kind that Sudden Death is).

I have a hard time reviewing this picture since it is an unofficial sequel to Die Hard. For those of you who don’t know I am a HUGE fan of the Die Hard pictures (starring Bruce Willis, look it up if you haven’t seen it) because, as a fan do I want to support this as part of the die hard mythos or should I not support it since it is unofficial, it is hard to say.

Sudden DeathFor legal reasons, McClane’s name has been changed to McCord, and he is being played by Van Damme instead of Bruce. He is now a fire marshall and instead of saving Hollie he has two kids going to the hockey game while he’s on duty. Hans Grueber (now played by a different guy) has planted bombs in the arena and has taken over the vice president’s VIP box seats. He’s gonna blow up the whole arena with everybody in it if the feds don’t transfer a whole assload of money to his bank accounts and what not.

Van Damme does not do the smartass oneliners that Bruce does, but he does a pretty decent job and he wears an undershirt like Bruce does. One complaint I think they should have shaved his hairline to make him look more like Bruce.

Now at the beginning I didn’t think I was gonna like this picture because it was too cutesy to be believed. For cryin out loud the guy sign languages “I love you” to his kids before he goes on his shift. When he’s gone the kids have an argument about whether or not their dad is brave. And before there’s any sign of danger he tells his son to stay in his seat no matter what, “even if the building is falling down around you, stay in your seat.” Well gee willikers I wonder where this one is going.

There are some good tricks though, like they introduce this chef character who impresses the kids with a meat cleaver trick, and you’re thinking, “Gee, I wonder if that’s gonna come up later.” But about three minutes later the guy gets shot and you never see the cleaver again. Good stuff.

In the beginning of a die hard picture what you gotta do is establish how organized and how vicious these terrorist bastards are. So one technique they use on this one is where Hans shoots a secret service agent and the vice president says, “That agent was named so-and-so, he has a five year old son, a three year old daughter, and his wife is pregnant.” So that way you know that it is so bad that they killed him.

Of course McCord quickly finds out about the terrorist plot going on and it turns out he knows alot of karate for a fire marshall, and doesn’t have a problem beating people to death. Right away there is a good scene where he savagely murders a gal in a penguin costume. His daughter becomes one of the hostages and this time it’s personal. He doesn’t try to pick the terrorists off one by one like McClane usually does, but if they try to stop him from defusing the bombs, he kills them using kitchen supplies, hockey gear, fire, or what have you.

One of the best parts is when he’s running from some dudes, and he has no choice but to steal a guy’s hockey uniform and go out on the ice and be goalie in the big game. It is a great way to hide but also I’m thinking wow, this is a good twist, now the movie’s gonna be about will they win the game or not.

But again, the movie is not going where you think it is, actually it goes back to the terrorist story when the dudes notice him out on the ice. So then I’m thinking maybe they’ll have to disguise themselves as players from the other team so they can get out on the ice and shoot him. But no, the dumbass gets kicked out of the game for a flagrant foul and has to fight them in the locker room where it is more difficult to wear skates, because there is no ice.

There is a really cool and ridiculous stunt that I won’t give away, where McCord gets his daughter back and saves all the hostages. Hans has his perfect chance to run off and go collect his money. But instead he puts on an elaborate disguise with fake mustache and blond hair and kidnaps McCord’s daughter, forcing McCord to come after him. It’s just one of those stupid mistakes you make, you get nervous and you slip up you know. There is always some little way to drop the ball… the closer you get, the farther you are in some ways. I mean if I had a nickel for every stupid motherfucker that made it to the home stretch and then crashed into a parked car or got his pants stuck on a fence or dropped the money down a sewer or slipped on a pile of wet leaves and broke his tailbone or, as in this case, put on a fake mustache and kidnapped the daughter of an over zealous fire marshall, I would be able to drop these banners that’s for sure.

I think McCord is the real jackass in this situation, though. He also has the chance to get away, he has his kids with him, he saved all the hostages, and the building is evacuated. But I guess it just chaps his ass to think he’s busting his balls every day as this hockey arena fire marshall, changing light bulbs and what not, trying to raise two kids on his own on this measly salary, I mean really WORKING for a good honest living – and then here’s this German fuckhead Hans Grueber getting all these billions of dollars for one day of work. And I mean he wasn’t even planting the bombs or anything, he was just sitting on his ass up there in the box seats. He killed a few people but big deal, it was a gun and they weren’t armed, it wasn’t like hand to hand or anything. I mean if anyone deserves this money it’s the blue collar terrorists, the guys who put their blood sweat and tears into chasing McCord around the arena, the guys who ended up set on fire or blown up or steam pressed because this fire marshall happens to be so god damned ingenuitive.

I think this must be what McCord was thinking when he chased after Grueber and climbed onto his helicopter and made sure to kill the bastard. (The big surprise here is that even though McCord refers to the situation as a “game” throughout the movie, he doesn’t say “I win” or “game over” when he kills him. Good restraint there bud, seriously.)

But I don’t think this is good judgment on McCord’s part and I think he should be ashamed of himself and so should the whole fire department. I mean maybe if he was a security guard he should chase the guy down, it would be his job. But he’s a fire marshall, his job is to prevent fires which means he should NOT be blowing up helicopters while he’s on the clock. I hope if there is another sequel it will start out with him fired and disgraced or at least on suspension like McClane in the beginning of Die Hard: With A Vengeance. If he gets away with this then I can only say that this kind of lenience by employers is the reason why the american work ethic is often so shoddy, they can get away with this kinda crap.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Wednesday, January 1st, 2003 at 7:41 am and is filed under Action, Reviews, Thriller. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

20 Responses to “Sudden Death”

  1. For some I always dismissed this, but caught it through Netflix and you know what? I rather quite enjoyed it.

    Out of the DIE HARD clones that clogged Hollywood aciton cinema in the 1990s, I would say that SUDDEN DEATH fits rather nicely between the masterpeice knock-off UNDER SIEGE, and the rather lame AIR FORCE ONE.

    Strange how both DEATH and AFO follow the DH formula to the hip, and yet while it lasted, I liked DEATH but couldn’t give two shits about AFO. Why is that? My theory:

    (1) the DIE HARD plot doesn’t work at all on an airplane. It’s ludicrous, and not the good kind. And nobody bring up PASSENGER 57. That didn’t work either. Nor EXECUTIVE DECISION.

    (2) Such clones need to differentiate somehow from the others to sell. With AFO, the U.S. President is the hero. But what do they do with that gimmick? Nothing different. Imagine if a chicken-hawk President like Clinton or Dubya-type instead of Han Solo? That would be more interesting.

    (3) SUDDEN DEATH at least we get some fun creative kills & threats: Hot grill, French Frier, industrial dishwasher, hitwoman in mascot costume, meat slicer, exercise equipment, fire, homemade incendiary device, skates, good shit.

    (4) Peter Hyams crafted effectively a very slick airport novel action/thriller, which is fitting because DIE HARD in itself was based off such a procedural pulp work. I always admired Hyams for willingness to always work different genres, never afraid of victory or defeat. Also he lights his own pictures. That’s awesome.

    (5) Also Van Damme for most of DEATH doesn’t have a gun. When he does use one, it dillutes run of the mill to otherwise compelling action cinema.

  2. This is actually one of my favorite Van Damme flicks. The main one is Hard Target. Anyway, you made no mention of the fight between McCord and the hitwoman disguised at a mascot. That was priceless.

  3. I’ve always had a soft spot for MAXIMUM RISK.

  4. By the way, are there any experts on Van Damme out there who can point out what to watch and what to avoid? I’ve just realized that I haven’t seen that many movies with the man. I’m almost through Dolph’s canon now, and ready for something else.

  5. Pegsman, I’d recommend Hard Target, Kickboxer, Sudden Death, Wrong Bet (also called Lionheart), UniSol, UniSol Regeneration and Bloodsport the most.

    Timecop is fun although I’d rank it a bit lower, and although UniSol The Return is mostly pretty bland, it’s got a pretty cool end fight against MJW.

    Maybe avoid Street Fighter (and most of his late era DTV stuff), and personally I’ve never liked Nowhere To Run.

  6. Pegsman, I’d second Mike A’s list, but re: Van Damme’s DTV stuff, I actually enjoyed both The Hard Corps and Second in Command when I saw them on TV. I’m also a sucker for Nowhere to Run; it’s small and minor but it’s nice to see him in a T2-style relationship with a kid, and Rosanna Arquette is gorgeous.

    His best acting performance is definitely in JCVD, even though the movie itself isn’t very good. I definitely recommend the outrageous Double Team if you like Torque-like craziness, as well as the very similar Knock Off. Looking through his major filmography he actually doesn’t have many duds, the only ones I didn’t really like were Death Warrant, Double Impact and Sudden Death, but I’d still recommend catching them on TV if you can.

  7. Wake of Death and Until Death perhaps?

  8. Those are actually two great lateJCVD movies in my opinion. Especially Until Death has some really strong acting on his part. More a character piece than fullblown action if I remember correctly, but it´s really solid. Both of those movies are.Also,te recent Six Bullets is pretty damn great in my opinion.

  9. Looks like I’ve seen a lot of the “good ones” after all. I saw NOWHERE TO RUN with my then 70 year old father (he’s dead now, and he only liked 70’s Bronson movies and HIGH ROAD TO CHINA) and he liked it, so I’m sort of obliged to like it. And I’m half way through SUDDEN DEATH now, and I haven’t turned it off yet. Oh, and I think MAXIMUM RISK anf THE SHEPHERD are really cool.

  10. Oh man, HIGH ROAD TO CHINA. A perfectly good old-school romantic hero role for Tom Selleck ruined by the fact that Hollywood never came up with a leading lady who could match him. He’s seven feet tall and possessed of the world’s manliest mustache and he gets paired time and again with these tiny, shrill college sophomore types. He always seems like he’s babysitting, not courting.

  11. Mr. M – So I take it you’re not a QUIGLY DOWN UNDER fan then?

  12. Same problem, but that movie’s got more going for it, i.e. Alan Rickman’s in it.

  13. I dont think there is a skipable Van Damme theatrical release.

  14. Laura San Giacomo might be half the size of Selleck, but I do think she has the right temperament to make a good match for him in QUIGLEY. And even if The Moustache often is looked upon as this romantic leading man, I think he’s at his best when he play grumpy old men like police chief Stone.

  15. In theory, San Giacomo might have worked, but the character she was playing was impossible. She came off more like a retarded teenager than a grown woman that a stud like Selleck should be bedding down with. It was kind of uncomfortable to watch.

  16. You could skip DEATH WARRANT. Under no circumstances are you to skip STREET FIGHTER: THE MOVIE. I always liked MAXIMUM RISK myslef, but it’s no DOUBLE TEAM. I enjoyed THE QUEST too but it’s UNISOL, SUDDEN DEATH, BLOODSPORT, KICKBOXER, DOUBLE IMPACT and I guess HARD TARGET. I always hated TIMECOP and still do. Funny that’s his most mainstream and most popular.

    QUIGLEY DOWN UNDER is awesome. One of my all time favs, just a great old school adventure.

  17. Fred: I like QDU overall (you’re right, it has an old school sense of scope that you don’t see much anymore when you know most exteriors are CGI-enhanced) but San Giacomo’s entire role, from the way it’s written to the way it’s performed, is just embarrassing. Remember the part where she fights a bunch of symbolic wolves and all of a sudden she’s magically cured of the crazy? I don’t think there’s an actress on earth who could have pulled that role off.

  18. Yeah, I would say KICKBOXER, BLOODSPORT, LIONHEART, HARD TARGET and DOUBLE TEAM are the unmissable non-Unisol Van Dammes. LIONHEART would be at the top of those for me if I wasn’t so addicted to the silliness of DOUBLE TEAM.

  19. I don’t think DOUBLE IMPACT gets enough love. I like how they explain one brother’s Belgian accent (which is supposed to be French for some reason) but not why the brother who grew up in Hong Kong talks the same way. And Geoffrey Lewis is great as the grizzled mentor who gets beat up a lot.

  20. Thanks guys. Looks like I’ve seen a lot of the good ones after all. Haven’t seen LIONHEART though, so I will start with that.

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