Sudden Death (1995) — JCVD goes all Die Hard at a hockey game

“Go ahead. Dead heroes get the best funerals.”

Justin’s rating: I don’t care what you say, “Terror Goes Into Overtime” is an AMAZING tagline.

Justin’s review: Like most people, you would probably look at Sudden Death and assume that this was Jean-Claude Van Damme jumping on board the incredibly hot Die Hard bandwagon of the 1990s. It’s a common assumption, but I suspect that actual truth is that the screenwriters really wanted a movie where JCVD beat a Pittsburgh Penguins mascot to death and then reverse-engineered the plot from there.

When a former CIA operative and current chatty jerk (Powers Boothe) leads a gang of thugs into the Pittsburgh Penguin stadium during Game 7 of the Stanley Cup, the only thing he wasn’t expecting was Darren McCord (Van Damme), a fire marshal who’s surprisingly competent when it comes to fighting off gangs of terrorists. The bad guys take the Vice President hostage to extort money from the government, while McCord becomes the monkey wrench in their plans. But can he kill all of them, keep his kids safe, and disarm a bunch of bombs all before the game’s over?

So we’ve been here before and you know the drill, but even so, Sudden Death offers up a good amount of thrills and violence (both on and off the ice) in the best tradition of ’90s action films. Having JCVD team back up with Timecop director Peter Hyams was a good move, because while they don’t produce Shakespeare, their partnership delivers on entertainment. Sure, McCord isn’t as funny as John McClaine, but he’s no slouch on improvising weapons, disarming explosives, and doggedly pursuing justice in the face of overwhelming adversity.

Sometimes this film devolves into delicious silliness, such as the aforementioned mascot fight and another reverse-engineered moment when — naturally — McCord has to take to the ice and play some hockey. It’s the sort of thing that movies today couldn’t pull off without getting booed off-stage, but the ’90s could do just about anything in an action movie without reprisal, including making the longest and goofiest helicopter crash in cinematic history.

This darkly cheeky tone is what helps Sudden Death work above its derivative source material. It’s fun in the same way that Hard Target or Under Siege was fun — not because it was for a minute believable but because you couldn’t wait to see what the filmmakers came up with next.

Didja notice?

  • Nothing like starting a movie with a dead kid to bring down the mood
  • Yeah nobody noticed a huge amount of automatic gunfire by a busy bridge
  • This movie really makes popcorn seem ominous
  • Chekov’s squirt gun
  • These kids are so annoying
  • Bad guys have a whole lot of threats on hand to threaten kids — so fill her mouth with spiders already
  • McCord vs Icee penguin fight
  • Helicopter rocket attack
  • There’s no way that squirt gun could throw out that much propellant

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