Kevin: It’s been an embarrassment of riches for CJ and myself at the movies lately, as we started last week seeing “Die Hard 2” (review coming soon) at the Alamo Drafthouse and ended it with our usual big-screen Christmas viewing of the original “Die Hard.” In between we also caught one of the many, many, many “Die Hard” homages/rip-offs that flooded theaters in the late-‘80s and early ‘90s, with a screening of Jean-Claude Van Damme’s “Sudden Death” hosted by the Junkfood Cinema guys as part of their #JCVDecember celebration. (Click here to listen to their post-screening podcast on the film.)
Since I had already covered “Sudden Death” – in which terrorists take the vice president hostage during Game 7 of the Stanley Cup and only a former goalie/fireman/Belgian can stop them – from the hockey angle, I figured I’d let CJ start our Tag Team by giving us his impressions of the Muscles from Brussels’ late-to-the-station attempt at jumping aboard the “Die Hard” train:
CJ: When we are first introduced to JCVD’s firefighter character, he is sitting trapped with a young girl he has found in the middle of a burning house. Now JCVD will not leave her side, and heroically holds her in his arms while calling for help. Sadly, help doesn’t arrive right away, and the house begins to collapse as he shields the girl with his body. Once he sits back up, she is dead. So, if the fire and smoke didn’t kill him, it clearly didn’t kill her, nor could have any debris done so since she was covered by him. So as he covered her did he accidentally smother her to death as she comically hit his back with her hand trying to get him to ease up?
Either way, this apparently gets him booted as a firefighter because … well I’m not sure why. He seemed to do everything possible. His only other option would have been to get up and leave the poor girl alone in the house. I’m actually really confused as to why he was kicked out, which is weird as this seems to be a big part of his backstory, despite it making no logical sense.
Speaking of, his son also spends the whole movie reminding pops and his sister that JCVD is not a firefighter anymore. Apparently JCVD 100% risks his life to try and save this little girl, and all junior has to say about that is “Unimpressed old man, why don’t you take a walk to Dumbshitville, Population: You.”
And it turns out mom feels the same way, as after seeing the little girl dead, we fast forward two years and JCVD is now divorced. Again, why? Maybe I was wrong about this movie and JCVD’s character is also walking around the whole time going “I don’t get why everyone hates me.”
Mom doubles down on her hate when JCVD shows up to her new home and surprises the kids with tickets to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals. She gets all huffy about him doing this last minute, but I’ve got news for you, Game 7 tickets are hard to get, and I’m imagining since it’s been established that JCVD is a child-killing loser, he probably doesn’t have the cheddar to buy these in advance, and probably got them last second from someone on the team because … well no need to have a scene that explains this either.
Also, since when was it bad that the divorced dad took an interest in his kids on his “days off”? I know plenty of single moms who would love it if pops actually made an effort to spend MORE time with his kids and less time doing Fireball shots with coeds.
My biggest peeve though? It is made very clear that the vice president is in the owner’s suite, and once the head chef has brought him his meal, the kitchen is to be emptied and shut down. So, this all happens. Let me be clear, everyone vacates the kitchen and shuts it down for the night. Later, as JCVD battles the mascot (yes), they fight over a fryer that has fresh french fries in the middle of cooking, a grill that has some steaks just thrown on (also, why are there steaks at a hockey game?), pots of water still boiling on lit gas ranges, and meats on a deli slicer with the blade running. So. Hmm. So …
a) How the fuck is any of this shit on?
b) Why is the food not burned, but looks like it was just thrown on?
c) Seriously, how the fuck is any of this shit on?
Did they announce to everyone working in the kitchen that it was time to leave and they all just immediately walked away, with no worries about the place going up in flames? And actually, as the fire inspector, how did JCVD not notice this during his earlier rounds?
Then we move on to one of the bad guys who fires a rocket launcher at the sign outside the stadium and at a helicopter that is trying to drop off some SWAT guys. At this point one of the cops wants to search for that dude but they didn’t seem to have any idea where to start (or something like that, I don’t know, I really couldn’t get past the fact a guy was halfway through slicing some roast beef and then just walked away). Here is my idea: start with the building that has launched two rockets at you.
Fast forward to the end and JCVD has his son and daughter back with him, but sees Powers Boothe trying to escape via a helicopter’s drop ladder and obviously he must chase after him. Here’s my question: why? You’ve got your kids, which you have made clear was your only priority, so you can walk away. Plus, the arena is surrounded by cops now, so I’m pretty sure they can follow a little news copter for three miles before it runs out of fuel. Then again, these are the same assholes who saw two rocket launchers go off and went “That’s Pittsburgh for ya’!,” so maybe JCVD knows something I don’t.
Also, Powers Boothe dying in real life? Sad.
Powers Boothe dying in “Sudden Death”? Hilarious!
Oh, also, despite spending a lot of time building up the goalie angle, the Penguins goalie is somehow both left- and right-handed during the course of the game. Sadly, that was not the movie’s biggest oversight.
Kevin: Let’s go back, appropriately enough, to JCVD’s backstory. This was at a time when it seemed like every action movie hero had to have some tragedy in his past (e.g. Riggs in “Lethal Weapon,” Gabe in “Cliffhanger,” whatever Kurt Russell’s name was in “Stargate”)? We even saw a variation on this recently with “San Andreas.” What is up with that? I guess the implication is that nothing makes you whole again after accidentally backing over the neighbor’s kid like slaughtering a bunch of terrorists.
Also he has the requisite ex-wife, which, yeah it’s only been two years. All we see of JCVD is that he is heroic, resourceful, and dedicated to his family, but he loses someone while trying to save an entire family from a burning building and she kicks him to the curb. She’s already shacked up with a new guy, who actually of everyone in this movie is the nicest to Van Damme and seems to appreciate his role in the family (probably because after living with his ex he can sympathize with what he had to deal with).
Normally I would assume that experiencing that kind of tragedy and losing your job would cause stress in a marriage, and wouldn’t find it out of the ordinary if they eventually decided to separate after a long period of couples therapy and trying to make it work for the kids. But nope, apparently she was shoving divorce papers under his nose when he was still recovering in the hospital. I always wonder though, after these guys inevitably show how awesome they are after saving the Vice President or rescuing their daughter after a tsunami hits San Francisco or whatever, are the wives legally required to take them back?
And you’re right CJ that none of this has any impact on the story at all. At least Riggs’ depression and suicidal thoughts were actually pertinent to his character arc in “Lethal Weapon;” from what we can tell, Van Damme’s character Darren McCord is no different now than he probably was before that kid died. We keep hearing that he is suffering from PTSD, and later Boothe says something about him being “a head case,” but if that’s the case we sure don’t see any evidence of it. Maybe this is all some “Truman Show”-type of attempt by the people of Pittsburgh into gaslighting a perfectly nice, normal, heroic person into believing that he is somehow a ticking time bomb waiting to go off.
Actually considering that his not-at-all-awkwardly mentioned backstory about being a minor league goalie in Canada is way more important to what follows, why didn’t we get to see that rather than some downer opener with the dead kid? Then maybe we could have also seen his character’s time as a Quebec separatist freedom fighter, since I assume that is where he learned both his fighting and bomb-making and defusing skills.
And man does his son flip on him on a dime. Apparently for the last two years, every time he sees his kids they have to ask him if he’s a firefighter again, like hey maybe by the 50th time you just assume that if he is a fireman again he’ll fucking let you know. Either way, after scoring his kids tickets to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup, he takes them down to the Pittsburgh Arena kitchen and mentions to the head chef that a light bulb is out. Then when he replaces it himself because the chef is super busy and he’s a nice guy and it took him all of five seconds, his daughter is all, “Is that what daddy does, replace light bulbs?,” and his son looks at him with the kind of shame and embarrassment usually reserved for the children of full-blown alcoholic gambling degenerates.
HE CHANGED ONE LIGHT BULB! And he was just doing it as a favor. His son acts like he just walked in on his dad cleaning the toilets with his tongue. So to recap, Van Damme works as the head fire inspector for the arena (which seems like a cool gig), secures great seats for his kids to the biggest sporting event in years, gets them into the locker room to meet the team before the game, and takes them on a tour of the private kitchen like he’s Ray Liotta in “Goodfellas.” But he changes one light bulb and now he’s just “Mr. Light Bulb Man” in the eyes of his kids.
CJ: What I also don’t get is this kid all of a sudden has no respect for his father, but then when JCVD tells him not to leave his seat, he stays there despite explosions and the crowd stampeding out of the arena. I don’t usually say this, but maybe the wrong kid died in this movie.
Speaking of dying, one of my favorite moments of this movie is when Boothe is explaining his plan and how people may or may not die (one death at the end of each period if a certain amount of money is not transferred to bank accounts). During all of this, the mayor’s wife keeps crying. As they approach the end of the first period, Boothe decides to crowd source his first victim by saying “Now, would you all agree that the mayor’s wife has been the most annoying?” Everyone thinks this is evil, but personally, I agreed! Haha, Powers Boothe, you left us too soon!
Kevin: Slightly off topic, but does “Sudden Death” contain the most instances ever of someone pulling a gun on someone else and then that gun gets kicked into a deep fryer or under a table or something? I can totally picture them re-opening Pittsburgh Arena next year and little kids finding silencer-equipped MAC-10s under their seats.
And yeah, there really was no reason for Van Damme to jump on that helicopter ladder and go after Boothe at the end, and not just because the chances of him both not dying and also actually stopping Boothe were about 3% (but apparently that’s all the chance Van Damme needs). He spends the entire movie trying to get his daughter back, but then when he succeeds Boothe kidnaps her AGAIN no more than five minutes later. Then he saves his daughter from a bullet I guess (it’s kind of unclear, it looked like Boothe got pulled away on the ladder and thus his aim was off anyway, but either way Van Damme somehow got shot in the shoulder, which in action movies has zero effect on you if you are the hero), but Boothe gets away again.
Considering he and the daughter are safe, at this point I would let the authorities take over, no matter how bad of a job they’ve done so far. It’s not like he and Boothe had any real personal connection; they talked briefly on the phone twice, and actually Van Damme’s only memory of him will be that Rip Taylor version at the end (or as CJ put it, the limited edition gay Powers Boothe Ken Doll).
By the way, who was that disguise supposed to fool? “Well it sure looks like Powers Boothe, but with a Justin Bieber haircut, so better let him go.”
Let’s also note that between the first two “Die Hard” movies and “The Last Boy Scout,” we’ve highlighted Bruce Willis’ habit of playing characters who suffer severe head trauma, blood loss, and gunshot wounds, but are allowed to just hop in the nearest limo and drive home rather than the hospital. So let’s appreciate that Van Damme at the end actually receives medical attention despite suffering way less injury than any of Bruce’s characters. Although once he’s in the ambulance the screen fades to black and that’s it, just the credits. We don’t see him meet the VP or get a key to the city or hopefully season tickets for next season in the nosebleed seats. Of course, after all this I give it about a week before his son is back to rubbing his face in the fact that he’s still not a fireman.
Exit Poll: Which action movie daughter will likely suffer the most long-term emotional and psychological damage, Darian Hallenbeck from “Last Boy Scout” or Emily McCord from “Sudden Death”? Darian went though some scary shit in that, but being the daughter of Joe Hallenbeck I’m pretty sure she is already jaded about life (especially since she probably at least once caught Bruce McGill coming out of her mom’s shower).
But Emily is not even 10 years old and she is almost crushed by one dead woman in the bathroom (how did no one see a bloody corpse in there the entire game?), sees another guy shot in the head, spends the rest of the movie being menaced by scary psychopaths and watching random people get executed, and just when she thinks she’s safe she gets kidnapped again and almost falls to her death. Let’s just say that if all she does is wet the bed for the next few years then the McCords should consider themselves very lucky.
CJ: I could not disagree more about the daughters. I think Darian is fucked. The way I see it, Emily sees some horrible shit, but it is done by bad, evil people, so ultimately she can rationalize that as “bad guys do bad things” and then sees her dad as “good guys who do good things.” So more likely she’ll probably not want to talk to any mascots any time soon, but ultimately be fine. As for Darian, in addition to everything in “Last Boy Scout,” she also lives in a house where, as Kevin pointed out in our Round Table, Joe telling his wife, “Fuck you Sarah, you’re a lying bitch, and if there weren’t cops here I’d spit in your face,” is meant as a touching declaration of love. I think I could end my argument right there, but let’s also remember it was Darian’s idea to hide a gun in a hand puppet. She’s already lost.
As for how “Suddent Death” ends, my assumption is that the screen fading to black was actually JCVD finally bleeding out and dying. What, too dark?
I’d like to touch on the guy JCVD sets on fire. He REALLY lights this guy up, but did you notice how less than 30 seconds later, not only has that guy put the flames out, but he’s not as burned as you would think? And on top of that, why is his first thought “Must destroy JCVD!”? I think he should either be passed out from the pain, or, if he actually is awake, just be screaming in pain. Not to mention, JCVD has left a kitchen with open flames and gas and now has set off a fire while surrounded by air vents, piping, and A BOMB. It’s weird that he was a seemingly good firefighter but a shit fire inspector.
Oh, and he’s Canadian but calls pop “soda.” Now that’s some bullshit right there.
Kevin: Let’s note that this is the second movie we’ve seen this week after “Die Hard 2” in which a black authority figure who seemingly was helping the hero turned out to be working with the villain. I’m not sure what Hollywood is trying to say, but if I ever find myself the protagonist of a “Die Hard”-type situation in real life and Louis Gossett Jr. shows up offering his help, I’m just gonna shoot him in the face just to be safe.
But yeah, let’s forget about the fact that Van Damme takes the squirt gun from his son and shoves it deep into one of his pockets to the point where it should have been very uncomfortable and probably leaking all over his crotch. But then he proceeds to engage in two major fights with both the mascot and the hungover-looking Australian who he kills with a chicken bone, and at no time is he like, “I should probably throw this away, this is really uncomfortable in my tight pants.” But thank god he didn’t, because he luckily finds some lighter fluid in an executive office later.
Also, Van Damme makes one squirt from that thing over a flame and the dude is instantly engulfed in flames. Did he fucking soak his jacket in kerosene before this? I also liked the seemingly five-minute sequence of Van Damme McGyvering that dart gun attached to his wrist, assuming that if we spent this much time watching him put it together that it would be saved for something really special. Nope, he just uses it three minutes later on some random henchman we’ve never seen before.
Let’s end by noting that as with “Executive Decision,” which seemed to be the last of the big-studio high-concept Tom Clancy-ish type thrillers, “Sudden Death” was pretty much the last major theatrically released “Die Hard” rip-off that came in that film’s wake. Not only did it get a Christmas Day release, but it got a sort of good review from Roger Ebert. I tried to find his partner’s review by typing “Gene Siskel” and “sudden death,” but unfortunately a lot of other things appeared (RIP Gene).
CJ what was your favorite “Die Hard” rip-off from this period? I would still go with “Under Siege 2,” but at that time I was a sucker for any “terrorists take over XYZ and only one man can stop them” movie. That includes “Toy Soldiers,” where terrorists take over a prep school and are defeated by Sean Astin (talk about some loser terrorists):
“Crackerjack,” where Christoper Plummer takes over a mountain resort and only Thomas Ian “Terry Silver” Griffith as Det. Jack Wild (!) can stop him:
And “No Contest,” where Andrew Dice Clay takes over a beauty pageant and only Robert Davi can stop him:
CJ: All good options, but when it comes to white-knuckle suspense and brutal violence, the answer is obvious: “Home Alone.”