Sudden Death (1995)

There's a playful absurdity to SUDDEN DEATH that wouldn't be out of place
in a John Woo movie.  Sure, the plot-- about a lone fireman (Jean-Claude
Van Damme) in a terrorist-held hockey rink-- is a ripoff of DIE HARD, but
the over-the-top approach could have come straight from Hong Kong.  Of
course, director Peter Hyams (TIMECOP) is no John Woo.  (Or, for that
matter, even a Richard Rodriguez.) He can't construct a tightly
choreographed fist-fight to save his life.  What Hyams *is* good at,
though, is the *big* stuff:  impressive aerial shots of the Philadelphia
Civic Arena, surrounded on all sides by the flashing lights of emergency
vehicles.  Or the in-your-face hockey footage that is juxtaposed through-
out the film.  (The plot has the Vice President held hostage during a
Stanley Cup playoff.)

Hyams liabilities as a lean-and-mean action director are evident in the
very first scene.  Cut to a residential neighborhood, where Van Damme's
character, a Philly firefighter, is trapped inside a working house fire. 
The short sequence is staged with no more finesse than your average TV
movie and that's a sign for us.  We know, in those first few minutes, that
the rest of the action is going to be only OK.  Not great, just OK.  (The
later "oohs" and "aahs" you hear are from those who have never seen
better; those who have never seen a John Woo film, such as HARD TARGET,
made with Van Damme in 1993.)

With the visceral impact diluted, the incentive to keep watching comes
from the honest humor-- which is unusually generous for a film of this
sort-- and the parody.  Or is it self-parody?  Who can tell where to draw
the line after watching a free-for-all kitchen brawl between Van Damme and
a woman in a mascot suit?  When a giant penguin tries to push our hero's
head into a deep-fat fryer, we know not to take things too seriously. 
SUDDEN DEATH is not a dumb movie, per se, but it is dumb fun.  So, relax
and roll with the punches.  After all, this *is* a hockey game.  (Rated
"R"/~110 min.)

Grade: B-

Copyright 1995 Michael J. Legeros
Movie Hell is a trademark of Michael J. Legeros

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