"We're still at war, Plissken. We need him alive."

"I don't give a fuck about your war... or your president."

Welcome to Sudden Death

WELCOME TO SUDDEN DEATH is Michael Jai White’s new… addition to the SUDDEN DEATH franchise? I had heard it was officially a sequel to the 1995 Jean-Claude Van Damme DIE-HARD-alike directed by Peter Hyams, but I didn’t notice any continuity connecting them. It’s just a rehash of the same premise. So you could call it a remake, but since it doesn’t use any of the same names I suppose it is in the spirit of rehash DTV sequels like HOLLOW MAN 2, THE MARINE 2, WILD THINGS 2, THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT 2, KINDERGARTEN COP 2 and I’LL ALWAYS KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER.

White plays Jesse Freeman, ex-special-ops guy who has a new job as a stadium security job after rehabilitating from some shrapnel he got after escaping torture and kung-fu-ing insurgents overseas. His wife (Sagine Sémajuste) thinks he’s away from the family too much, so he brings his worshipful daughter Mara (Nakai Takawira, Young Simone Biles, THE SIMONE BILES STORY: COURAGE TO SOAR) and unimpressed son Ryan (Lyric Justice) with him when he works the opening game for the Phoenix Falcons. You know, of the National Basketball League.

Also in attendance are the owner of the stadium (Sabryn Rock, The Girlfriend Experience), a billionaire philanthropist so famous that Jesse knows his daughter will be excited to hear she’s there; her boyfriend, a comedically phony rapper called Milli (Anthony Grant, POLAR); the mayor (Kristen Harris, WRONG TURN 4: BLOODY BEGINNINGS) and the governor (Paul Essiembre, voice of the Silver Surfer in the ‘90s cartoon series). Together, they’re ambushed in the owner’s suite by a guy calling himself Alpha (Michael Eklund, SMOKIN’ ACES 2: ASSASSIN’S BALL, HUNT TO KILL, TACTICAL FORCE, THE MARINE 3: HOMEFRONT, THE CALL, SEE NO EVIL 2, COLD PURSUIT), whose paramilitary team have infiltrated the stadium disguised as wi-fi technicians, then security guards, and planted bombs at all the exits.

Jesse, of course, will have to use his skills to try to save everybody. When another character compares the situation to DIE HARD, Jesse squints like he has no idea what he’s talking about. (I don’t buy that.) He has an extensive Just How Badass Is He? background that we have seen ourselves in a prologue, and then hear the bad guys read from a computer file (“I told you he was a badass,” says Mara), and also just implied when he tells his boss, “You don’t know anything about me. If I submitted my real resume you would’ve been afraid to hire me.” Van Damme’s character was more of a regular guy, being a fire marshal and not soldier – I like that Jesse keeps a little bit of that underdog quality by being new at the job, a little bit nervous about it, and teased by co-workers for allegedly getting lost in the stadium. And his son calls him “lame” for not getting to carry a gun.

Jesse has help from a maintenance man named Gus, an affable white hayseed who calls him “Tight Shirt,” gets scared or boyishly excited alot and provides access to maps and golf carts. He’s played by Gary Owen, who I have now learned is a Navy veteran and former member of the Presidential Honor Guard who was named “Funniest Serviceman In America,” and became a comedian who was so popular on BET’s Comic View that they made him its only white host, and later gave him his own show. He was on Tyler Perry’s House of Payne, and Ebony called him “Black America’s Favorite White Comic.” Being unaware of any of this, I was absolutely convinced during his first scene that it was an awkward cameo by some athlete. His whole performance has the vibe of when baseball players or NASCAR drivers play a “funny” version of themselves in commercials. I don’t get it, but this is some sort of justice for a Black action hero to have a stereotyped white goofball sidekick. I support it.

Among Alpha’s team are two very good good henchpersons. Gamma is played by MJW’s wife Gillian White, who also acted with him in NEVER BACK DOWN: NO SURRENDER, but whose career goes back as far as LL Cool J’s “Hey Lover” video and the Chicks Who Love Guns video in JACKIE BROWN. She’s tough, has a cool look and plays a total psycho who has a good fight against Jesse. But the best villain is Omega, played by Marrese Crump, who I have followed since seeing him in David DeFalco’s WRONG SIDE OF TOWN, the same movie that introduced me to Dave Bautista. Crump is not in nearly enough movies, but he was the RZA’s main henchman in THE PROTECTOR 2 and his fight double in THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS 1 and 2. He also trained Chadwick Boseman for BLACK PANTHER.

In this one Crump’s movements are really impressive, and he has a good presence as a guy annoyed that he has to chase a little girl around. He takes Mara hostage after a funny scene where she uses her VIP badge to get into an employee bathroom and steps right into the middle of a kung fu battle. They do a good job of setting up his abilities so that you’ll anticipate his eventual encounter with Jesse, which (as a true martial artist) he clearly relishes.

I think 100% of all people who ever watch this movie will agree that that’s the best scene, an MJW duel against Crump and two others. Somehow you can sense it coming on as soon as Cypress Hill’s “How I Could Just Kill a Man” kicks in. I guess if they paid for a recognizable song in this over-lit Hallmark-movie-looking Winnipeg production you know this was the part they cared the most about. While I’m sure they didn’t get the amount of time they’d get on any production in an Asian country, this fight shows a level of thought and care that’s unusual in the U.S., especially at this budget.

The choreographer is the great Larnell Stovall (UNDISPUTED III, MORTAL KOMBAT: REBIRTH, BUNRAKU, NEVER BACK DOWN 2 and 3, UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: DAY OF RECKONING, FALCON RISING, KICKBOXER: VENGEANCE), who mixes in a variety of visually appealing fighting styles and gives the scenes a great rhythm and build, with little gags and character beats. Many of my favorite moments in the fights are White’s expressions between hits. In some fights he completely dominates, in one case feeling sorry enough to keep pausing to say things like “Brah” and “Come on, man,” before giving in and breaking the guy’s neck. I also liked the skirmish in a narrow hallway where he takes advantage of the closeness of walls and pipes to smash his opponent against them.

The fact that this goes down during a game is not taken advantage of as much as in the original. Though there’s a literal ticking clock with bombs set to go off at the buzzer, they don’t wring much tension out of it. And there’s nothing as good as when Van Damme fights someone in a mascot costume or gets on the ice dressed as the goalie. However, MJW does (SPOILER) shoot somebody with a t-shirt gun. Big points for that.

It’s absolutely a corny movie, with this wholesome family man, loving husband and father hero. I like that. I especially like that he doesn’t turn into a vengeful killing machine, as many action heroes do. At one point he offers to call a paramedic for someone he shot. Another time he beats some information out of a character and then thanks them for giving it to him. Not in a sarcastic way. Sincere.

I mentioned in the OLD GUARD review that I’m starting to think action movies using was-a-soldier-in-Afghanistan-or-similar-war-torn-Muslim-country as shorthand for badassness unintentionally indoctrinates us into accepting the status quo of an endless “War On Terror” that Bush and friends got us into and nobody has gotten us out of. So it’s only fair to mention that there’s a very cartoonish version of that here – way more kicking involved than those movies that are concerned with gritty realism. But to its credit it’s also balanced with a reveal that the villain was an “ex-CIA counterterrorism agent” who killed an American Muslim family when he raided them for incorrect suspicion of terrorism, and his motive is that he feels being held accountable for that ruined his life. He laughs at being called a terrorist, even though he’s planning to blow up a stadium full of people. Kind of aa Strannix type blowback villain.

Obviously I miss when movies like this could be theatrical releases, shot on film, with big production values. You know, like the original SUDDEN DEATH. Even in these modern circumstances it’s possible to make them with way more style and weight than this, as MJW has done both as an actor and a director. But the TV look and at times stiff dialogue doesn’t stop this from being an entertaining take on one of my favorite action formulas. White gets to be funny and cool, he and Crump show off their martial arts prowess, there’s good choreography and it’s shot cleanly. Now that I have been welcomed to sudden death I would be happy to return.

Written and directed by Dallas Jackson (THRILLER [2018], also writer of UNCLE P) with a co-writing credit to original SUDDEN DEATH writer Gene Quintano. Quintano also wrote COMIN’ AT YA! and POLICE ACADEMY 3 and 4, for the record. This is his first credit since 2004’s FUNKY MONKEY, so I’m guessing he didn’t get it on purpose.

This entry was posted on Monday, October 12th, 2020 at 10:28 am and is filed under Action, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

22 Responses to “Welcome to Sudden Death”

  1. I stopped watching this the other day right after the opening scene because I couldn’t tell if it was supposed to be campy or if they just didn’t get how misguided their attempt at making things seem cool was. Maybe I’ll give it another try to see the fight scene you describe.

  2. The fights were short but good. MJW is one of the most charismatic actors we have working today period. That is all to say it’s watchable… kinda.

    HARD TARGET 2 > WELCOME 2 SUDDEN DEATH

    Take that as you will

  3. ..”with this wholesome family man, loving husband and father hero…”

    Yeah, I give mad props to this film for not resorting to the umpteenth iteration of the “divorced loner attempting to piece his life back together” for it’s hero. They’ve flogged the skin and flesh clean off this dead horse.

    The use of marital discord, divorce, tragic death of [insert family member] or any form of relationship strife to create dramatic tension or engender sympathy for your protagonist is such lazy shorthand at this point, it smacks of creative bankruptcy on one hand and a tiresome and weary cynicism on the other.

    So, seeing a depiction of a bad-ass, ex-Special Forces vet who’s seen some serious shit but DOESN’T bring that PTSD home to his family and shutting them out, thereby wrecking his marriage and reduced to seeing his kids every 3rd Saturday left a warm and fuzzy feeling in me.

  4. I thought HARD TARGET 2 was pretty good. Needed more Jeeja Yanin though.

  5. The same could be said about all but maybe two movies ever made.

  6. I’m just going to assume that cinematographer Mark Irwin did the best job he could, working with the time and resources he had and whatever the director asked him to do. If feels churlish to complain about competent and professional technical work but I’ve been going back through Peter Hyams’ filmography and I really miss his style. His compositions, lighting, the way his images carry a certain weight, even in the digital realm with UNISOL: REGENERATION for his son and ENEMIES CLOSER for himself.

  7. Majestyk, and those two are..?

  8. CHOCOLATE and RAGING PHOENIX, of course. And maybe THIS GIRL IS BADASS. Although I suppose even those could have had more Jeeja. She could have played twins and I wouldn’t have complained.

  9. If Mr. Majestyk is refering that every movie needs more Jeeja Yanin, the answer for the two expections would be her first films Chocolate and Raging Phoenix, as she is mostly supporting role in every other film she has apperead in. In HARD TARGET 2 she only appears at the end, and she is not even credited on imdb for HARD TARGET 2. Fighter 1-3 are all credited with names, which makes it even weirder. It’s also weird has she isn’t even credited as uncredited.

  10. If Mr. Majestyk is refering that every movie needs more Jeeja Yanin, the answer for the two expections would be her first films Chocolate and Raging Phoenix, as she is mostly supporting role in every other film she has apperead in. In HARD TARGET 2 she only appears at the end, and she is not even credited on imdb for HARD TARGET 2. Fighter 1-3 are all credited with names, which makes it even weirder. It’s also weird has she isn’t even credited as uncredited.

  11. Jeeja ultimately chose family over a career (I believe she got pregnant somewhere mid shoot of TOM YUM GOONG 2) but even before that, after the terrific CHOCOLATE and RAGING PHOENIX (severely underrated in my opinion) her brief filmography was already showing an alarming slide into mediocrity. THIS GIRL IS BAD ASS had cool fights but way too much dead space taken up with sappy romances and goofy comedy (it was directed, after all, by the comic sidekick from ONG BAK) and THE KICK was just abysmal. So I’m cool with Ms. Yanin making her cameos, kicking some ass and then gracefully exiting…or getting blown up.

  12. Have ZERO problems with HARD TARGET 2. But I understand it’s become the TERMINATOR SALVATION of the DTV genre: A perfectly decent if unremarkable action flick that made the mistake of associating itself with a beloved and well regarded original directed by an Action Auteur which set up expectations it couldn’t possibly meet. I hardly hear any complaints about other Roel Reine sequels like MARINE 2, CONDEMNED 2, 12 ROUNDS 2, DEATH RACE 2&3 not to mention THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS 2

  13. I don’t know, I think I’ve complained about Roel Reine a fair amount. To me, he’s the perfect example of why DTV action so rarely lives up to its potential. He gets good footage, has decent production value, and works with solid talent, so why have absolutely none of his movies risen above mediocre? The answer: Personality. He has none. His movies do what they’re expected to do, and they do it proficiently, but without any spark of life animating them, they feel like simulations of movies made by an exceptionally well programmed AI. Compare his work to Jesse Johnson’s and they’re worlds apart. Johnson has just as little time and resources to work with as Reine, yet he infuses his films with character and flavor. And that makes all the difference. Reine just shoots movies; Johnson is a filmmaker.

  14. This one didn’t do much for me. A few fun fight scenes. Some awfully broad over the top ‘comedy’ from the sidekick. And just awful acting from most everyone stuck in the executive suite for the most part.

    But what took me out of it the most? It’s set at a basketball game, so the reference to Sudden Death makes no logistical sense at all. Way to be unrealistic with the plot, guys.

  15. Trailer for JU JITSU starring Frank Grillo, Tony Jaa and Nicholas Cage is up!

    Jiu Jitsu: Exclusive Official Trailer (2020) - Nicolas Cage, Tony Jaa, Frank Grillo

    An ancient order of Jiu Jitsu fighters faces a vicious race of alien invaders in an epic battle for the survival of Earth. Nicolas Cage joins a cast that inc...

  16. I had about the opposite reaction, where I didn’t mind the Iraq War backstory, but the presence of a noble, role model-y billionaire struck me as… off? She’s not simply neutral like Mr. Takagi in Die Hard–she’s not a main character whose wealth is vitally important to the story like Tony Stark or Bruce Wayne–the movie just felt the need to have a billionaire who’s also a wonderful person. Maybe they were just trying to do something different from the typical rich snob? I dunno. But it felt a little weird.

  17. Wait, so JIU JITSU is Mortal Kombat except instead of the Neatherrealm it’s Earth vs a Predator who is also Snake Eyes? Well…ok, I’ll allow it, but watch yourself councilor!

  18. Oh yeah Maj, no arguments here regarding the vastly superior film-making talents of a Johnson or even a William Kaufman compared to Reine.

    My admiration for him is the one I have for all hard working directors with a skill to genre hop so effortlessly and to give even his low budget features the gloss of a far more expensive one, compared to his contemporaries like Keoni Waxman and Ernie Barbarash.

    I mean, it’s no mean feat to go from one WWE sequel to another WWE sequel to [deep breath] a {sequel to a sequel to a prequel to a MUMMY sequel} to a prequel to a Statham remake of an old Roger Corman vehicular mayhem flick to a sequel of a RZA directed homage to old school kung fu flicks to an in-name-only-sequel to a Woo/JCVD actioner and in between all that, knock out 2 Danny Trejo Westerns and even hop back to his native Netherlands to film a MASTER & COMMANDER-style seafaring epic.

    I gotta applaud that type of work ethic mixed with adaptability.

  19. Yeah TJ, there was NO REASON for this movie to be called what it is, anymore than a Humans-Hunting-Humans action flick with Scott Adkins needed to be called HARD TARGET 2. With the latter, I could at least understand it as there’re a lot of fans of the original who’d be lured into watching it, but to title a movie linking it to a JCVD flick released 25 years ago that bombed at the box-office is a head scratcher. White and Adkins are way too well established in the DTV action genre to need this type of push. Hell, even a Dave Bautista-starring DIE HARD in a Soccer Stadium flick managed without such bait-and switch gimmicks.

  20. FINAL SCORE. That was pretty good.

  21. Kay: I agree with all that. He’s far from the worst DTV jobber out there. I just meant that all of my criticisms of HARD TARGET 2 are the same ones I’ve had for every Roel Reine movie I’ve seen and are not just the result of it being a sequel to a beloved classic.

  22. Just looked for this one on Netflix…I assume it will show up there eventually and I will check it out then. I notice that INCOMING with Scott Adkins is on Netflix now but I assume it’s terrible since I have never seen one single facebook post from Adkins about it. Anyone confirm?

    HARD TARGET 2 is easily the greatest sequel ever made if the criteria is comparing it to the original; I would really struggle to call it a sequel though. SUDDEN DEATH is a classic but I can’t fathom how they can frame this as even loosely related to the original if he doesn’t even fight a mascot and/or get involved in the game. Goddamnit I need to watch SUDDEN DEATH now.

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