Before his self-mocking Coors beer commercials and a plethora of straight-to-DVD movies, it’s hard to believe Jean-Claude Van Damme was once an action superstar. One of his last films to be released on the big screen was Sudden Death, an all-action, all-violent hostage/terrorist flick, set during an ice-hockey final. Die Hard on Ice would have been a more appropriate title.
It follows the usual pattern of an average-joe-saves-the-day scenario – this time in the form of a retired firefighter, Darren McCord (Van Damme, having the usual all-American name but with a heavy foreign accent). He is now a fire marshal for an arena hosting an ice hockey final and he decides to bring his two kids along, leaving them unattended to watch the game while he works – undoubtedly a big mistake.
Meanwhile, a disgruntled former US government employee holds the vice-president and other VIP’s hostage in a luxury suite, demanding lots of money. If not, he will kill a hostage after every period of the game, finally blowing up the whole arena when the game ends. Including himself. The FBI somehow manages to keep this under wraps from the spectators and the press, even though cars and helicopters are being blown up right outside in the car park by a bad guy with a bazooka. Yes, it really is that stupid.
However, this is strangely watchable stupid. Maybe because of nostalgia but this is alluringly enjoyable. It’s almost like a parody version of Die Hard. Highlights include Van Damme beating up a woman in a fully-suited penguin mascot outfit and killing another baddie with a chicken wing through the throat. All the cliché things happen (kidnapped child, inept baddies, a double-cross) and there are a quite a few graphic deaths which adds to the appeal. Powers Boothe makes a decent villain and appears to enjoy hamming up the Hans Gruber role, while Van Damme is the usual poor man’s Arnie when it comes to one-liners.
It’s a throwback to the 80s, when a one man action hero was a thing of the norm; Arnie, Sly, Bruce, Seagal etc. Unfortunately this came at the tail-end of the genre, which is shame as this ranks up there with Time Cop and Universal Soldier as one of JCVD’s better films. It’s now consigned to late night showings on ITV4 and to be honest, that’s probably where it belongs.