S is for… Sudden Death
I was so excited to watch Sudden Death for this website. I remember watching the movie several times with my mom when I was a teenager and loving it. I do enjoy Van Damme, and at the time we’d been watching a lot of hockey, and it’s overall a fun movie. Sure, it’s “Die Hard in a Hockey Arena,” but what’s not to love about that?
In Sudden Death, directed by Peter Hyams, Jean-Claude Van Damme stars as Darren McCord, a fire marshal working during Game Seven of the Stanley Cup playoffs between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Chicago Blackhawks. He brings his kids with him, Tyler and Emily (played by Ross Malinger and Whittni Wright), to celebrate Tyler’s birthday. Also at the game is the Vice President (played by Raymod J. Barry). As the countdown to face-off progresses, an obvious terrorist plot reveals itself as there are bad guys killing people and taking a woman hostage in her own home. Ultimately the terrorist is revealed to be played by Powers Boothe, though I honestly can’t recall his character’s name being given during the movie, or if it was it was over the phone and easy to miss. For what it’s worth, is name is Joshua Foss.
Foss is taking the Vice President and the other people in the owner’s box hostage in order to get money transferred into other bank accounts for him to acquire; specifically one third of the money must be moved by the end of each period of the game. McCord stumbles across the terrorist plot when Emily is kidnapped and brought up to the box. He learns enough of the scheme from a henchman he kills to go around the arena and start disarming the bombs placed around it by Foss. He’s able to reach outside help in the form of Secret Service agent Hallmark (Dorian Harewood), only to have it be revealed that Hallmark has been working with Foss the entire time.
Foss knows of McCord’s presence due to Emily saying something about her dad being “the boss” and a fireman, but doesn’t take the threat of a lone man very seriously. McCord is chased through the arena, and some hijinks ensue as he inadvertently plays goalie for the Penguins, but then the movie gets back on track as he devises a plan to get to the owner’s box from above, rather than below.
McCord is able to open the dome and swing on a camera down to the box and blow a hole in the roof with a homemade bomb. In the chaos he is able to rescue Emily but loses Foss, though Emily is later able to recognize Foss because of a stamp she had placed on his hand. Foss kidnaps her and drags her up to the roof of the arena, but McCord follows. There’s a fistfight and ultimately Foss dies in a helicopter crash. McCord is put into an ambulance with his kids, and all is well again.
…except the game is never finished because of everyone fleeing because of the commotion and explosions. Who wins?!
Not all the criteria were hit, but that is A-Okay because what was hit got hit quite a bit.
A is for… Accents
Jean-Claude of course has his Belgian accent. No one else in the film has a noticeable accent. Foss actually speaks as if he’s trying to hide an accent; he’s very precise and enunciates clearly.
B is for… Bad Guys
Joshua Foss is pretty much pure evil. We don’t know a whole lot about him except he used to work in the Secret Service (or still does, according to him) in the counterfeit division. He’s quite fancy looking in his tux and clearly has pure loyalty from his henchmen. He has no doubts as to whether his demands will be met and also absolutely no compunction about killing any and all people who get in his way. Anyone who has zero problems killing a little girl in cold blood is surely heinous. Clearly he is also intelligent, as his scheme is very detailed and well-planned. He’s also very sarcastic and sardonic, and most of the one liners in the film come from him.
As far as the henchmen go, they quite literally kill everyone who gets even a little bit in their way. It’s kind of ridiculous, actually, considering how loud their guns are when they don’t use silencers. Everyone is shot; there are no broken necks or blunt trauma. While effective, these are not stealthy people.
As one henchmen tells McCord, they truly are everywhere inside and outside the arena, so McCord doesn’t know who to trust.
It’s pretty apparent who they villain is before things even get rolling, considering his silence, the dramatic music, and the smarmy smile.
C is for… Chases
Because most of the film takes place in the hockey arena (specifically the Civic Arena in Pittsburgh), there aren’t any traditional chases. Most of it is henchman chasing McCord on foot. The only notable chasing is when McCord is running down the backs of the chairs from the mezzanine area down to the level of the ice.
D is for… Damsels
The only female characters with any real roles are Emily, who is of course McCord’s reason for fighting the battle, and Carla (Faith Minton), the doomed kickboxing female henchman.
E is for… Explosions
For some reason, either to show the power of the bombs or let the viewer know how the bombs were smuggled into the arena, a Pittsburgh Penguin plushy is blown up.
Foss blows up cars in the parking lot as a warning for the Secret Service to not try to come inside the arena.
Similarly, even though he said no helicopters, the Secret Service sends helicopters, and Foss has one of his henchmen blow one of them up with a rocket launcher.
When McCord uses the outside billboard to try to send a message to Hallmark, the same henchman uses the rocket launcher on the billboard.
When the henchman falls and lands on the scoreboard towards the end of the film, the scoreboard explodes.
McCord uses a homemade bomb to blow a hole into the roof of the owner’s box.
As the helicopter trapping Foss crashes into the ice, it explodes.
F is for… Flashbacks
There are no flashbacks, just a short opening scene that takes place two years before the film and establishes McCord’s character.
G is for… Guns
Check out the list here at the IMFDB.
Basically all the henchmen have machine guns, and use them without any concern for who might see or hear. It’s not until partway through the film that they even have silencers on them.
There’s a shootout between McCord and a goon in the locker room/weight room.
McCord doesn’t have his own gun, so he can only use those he’s acquired off of goons. However, he seems to prefer using his hands and feet as weapons.
H is for… Helicopters
The Secret Service sends two helicopters to the arena, and one of them gets blown up.
At the end of the film Foss’s men have a helicopter and prepare to leave with him by picking him off the roof using a rope ladder. He’s even able to get inside, but ultimately McCord is able to destroy the helicopter and Foss inside with the use of some well-placed bullets and gravity. It’s certainly a chilling use of a helicopter in a final sequence.
I is for… Improvisation
It seems like McCord improvises his weapons the entire movie because he doesn’t have a gun or doesn’t feel comfortable using them.
In the kitchen fights he uses various things as weapons including hot French fry grease, a fan, hot peppers, a dishwasher, and a broken chicken bone to the throat.
He’s also clever enough to send a message outside to Hallmark using the billboard marquee on the outside of the stadium.
He uses an air compressor/fire extinguisher to project darts.
Tyler’s water pistol is filled with lighter fluid and used as a flamethrower.
When it runs out of bullets, he uses his gun as a club.
McCord makes a bomb in a mason jar from household supplies.
McCord is pretty much making it up as he goes along throughout the entire movie because he is out of his element (fire marshals don’t usually take on terrorists).
J is for Jumping Through Solid Objects
There’s some falling, but really the only time someone goes through something is when McCord smashes a henchman’s head through a window.
K is for… Kill Count
McCord’s kill count is pretty high considering there’s no reason he should be used to taking such measures.
He kills Carla, the Icee impersonator, and shows absolutely no remorse. Granted, she did kidnap his daughter.
He kills the henchman disguised as a security guard with a chicken bone to the throat.
He shoots a dart into the throat of another henchman.
He sets Hallmark on fire.
He throws a guy off the domed roof of the arena.
He drops a guy down onto the ice from the roof.
He snags a machine gun and kills Foss’s henchmen, and finally Foss himself.
L is for… Limitations
As Hallmark points out, McCord is all alone, with no chance of outside help, especially once Hallmark is revealed to be crooked.
McCord also has the added stress of one of the hostages being his daughter, and knowing his son is still in the arena.
As far as the viewer knows, McCord doesn’t have any sort of training in taking down hostiles or negotiating for hostages.
M is for… Motivation
It’s no surprise at all that Foss wants money—and lots of it. He also seems to want to prove how terrible all of the Secret Service agents are at their jobs.
McCord’s goal is to save Emily, though by the end he knows he has to kill Foss, too.
N is for… Negotiation
Foss orders the Vice President to have one third of his money moved by the end of each period in the game or he’ll kill one hostage at the end of the first, two at the end of the second, and everyone in the arena at the end of the third. There will be no attempts to storm the box, no helicopters, no threats of any kind, or he’ll do a lot of damage, as he proved by blowing up the cars in the parking lot and the helicopter.
McCord, once he’s able to communicate with Booth by taking Hallmark’s phone, tells Foss he’ll be going after the bombs, and if Foss touches Emily, he’ll go after him.
O is for… One Liners
Emily: I want to go with Icee.
McCord: So does Tyler.
The head chef’s wife, as the terrorist holding her expects her to make a move while getting out Fig Newtons: I keep my machine gun in with the produce.
Vice President: Are you Democrats or Republicans?
Player: Neither, sir. We’re Canadians.
Hostage: Please, he needs a doctor.
Foss, after shooting the guy again: Not anymore.
*hostage makes a move to attack him*
Foss: Go ahead. Heroes get the best funerals.
Vice President: What kind of lunatic are you?
Foss: The best kind. But you can keep calling me names if it makes you feel better.
Foss: I’m not sure if I like you. When I find out, I’ll let you know.
Foss: I think you can all agree that the mayor’s wife has been most annoying.
Carla: Mr. Icee’s a woman, jerk-off.
Hallmark: How did you kill that guy?
McCord, while playing goalie: Stay down there… Stay down there…
P is for… Profession
McCord was a firefighter until having a young girl die in his arms traumatized him to the point that he couldn’t work anymore. He’s been out of work likely since then, because Tyler is excited that his dad is back to work. Tyler’s stepdad explains that McCord is working temporarily as the fire inspector at the arena.
All of this is well and good, because obviously McCord is in shape and has a reason for knowing his way around the arena, but it doesn’t explain how he’s such a good fighter, or has no problem killing people. Most firefighters/former hockey players don’t know how to kick box, and they’d likely have a hard time killing someone, no matter if they attacked first or kidnapped a loved one. Most action films have a main character who is in law enforcement or worked “special ops,” and having a throwaway line about McCord serving in the military between hockey and being a firefighter would have made his actions and abilities easier to accept.
Q is for… Quagmire
There isn’t really a point where it seemed like McCord wouldn’t get out alive. He was never taken hostage or severely injured.
R is for… Reality, or Suspension of Disbelief
The film starts off fine, a typical lone-wolf-fighting-terrorists-unexpectedly sort of film, but then when McCord is kicking the crap out of people and killing them, without having had a history doing that, it gets kind of hard to believe.
However, his abilities can be hand-waved as “just go with it” until McCord dons Tolliver’s uniform and actually plays in the game. The locker room would have been better guarded, or the trainer would have been in there, or McCord wouldn’t have been so stupid as to actually go back to the bench. The scene as he’s playing is cute, and fun for hockey fans, but it’s just really weird and slows down the pace of the film.
For a fire marshal, McCord sure knows a lot about non-fire-related things, such as how to open the dome, use the billboard, or manipulate the skycam. Maybe these were all perks of learning the fire safety stuff, but it seemed weird that he would know everything that’s so specific to an arena.
S is for… Sidekicks
Secret Service Agent Hallmark is established as McCord’s outside sidekick until he reveals himself to be working for Foss.
T is for… Technology
This film is dated by phone cords and the row of payphones.
The terrorists monitor the transfer of funds using computers in suitcases. These are also used to access McCord’s file once Emily gives Foss her dad’s name.
U is for… Unexpected Romance
Sudden Death is one of those great action movies with no ridiculous tacked-on love story. There is no romance whatsoever.
V is for… Vehicles as Weapons
Because the film mostly takes place inside, there aren’t many vehicles. The bad guys do rear-end the security team they kill. And they also use a Zamboni to deliver the bodies of their victims to the police outside.
W is for… Winning
The climax is kind of drawn out because it starts as McCord is scaling the outside of the dome. He has to fight a henchman, swing down towards the owner’s box, blast his way in, and then face the bad guys in a shower of bullets. But Foss escapes and dons a disguise. However, Emily is able to recognize him because of the stamp she had put on his hand earlier. Foss for some reason snatches Emily away and runs with her back towards the roof, and why he doesn’t just let himself blend into the crowd—McCord isn’t paying an ounce of attention to Emily at the moment—is a mystery. McCord chases them to the roof where a fistfight breaks out. Foss does have a gun and levels it at Emily, and McCord dives in front of it. With that distraction Foss is able to climb onto the waiting helicopter by using the waiting rope ladder.
McCord is able to recover enough to pick up the gun Foss had dropped and also climb aboard the rope ladder, even though he appears to be injured. McCord fires a bunch of shots into the underside of the helicopter, killing Foss’s henchman and the helicopter pilot. As he dies the pilot squeezes the throttle, forcing the helicopter to rotate until its tail is pointed at the ground. McCord watches as Foss slowly falls to his death. The helicopter falls and crushes in on itself as it connects with the ice. Where it proceeds to explode.
The last scene is a narration of Emily saying, for the fifth or so time, “My father is a fireman” as McCord gets loaded into an ambulance.
X is for… X-rays, or Maybe You Should See a Doctor
McCord pretty much gets the crap kicked out of him throughout the film, but no worse than any other action movie hero. The only time it seems bizarre is when he gets shot in the shoulder while protecting Emily and then he uses the same shoulder to cling to the rope ladder from the helicopter.
Y is for… Yesterday’s Problem Becomes Today’s Problem
McCord and Foss don’t know each other, so there isn’t a history there.
Z is for… Zone, In The
I love the little montage of McCord searching for weapons and making his map of the arena and where he would place bombs. He’s using what skills and knowledge he has to face an opponent he’s never seen and who has nothing to do with him except the villain has his daughter.
While not as good as I remember the movie from the last time I saw it many moons/revolutions around the sun ago, Sudden Death is still a fun movie. I really think it helps to like hockey, otherwise it might be kind of tedious with all the hockey stuff. The action is good, McCord is likeable, the villain is extremely creepy and particularly evil, the real players like Robitaille add some great realism, and the twist with Hallmark is unexpected. The main problems were some pacing issues and some questions that arise throughout.
Particularly, there’s no evidence in the locker room scene that Tolliver is sick, yet it becomes an important part of the film. They could have had him act sick or have someone make a comment.
I didn’t notice until the second watch-through, but the on-screen title where it says that it’s 20 minutes until face-off comes on when it’s dark outside. Unless it’s a particularly late start-time, it would still be at least a little light out.
Can you even see the game from the owner’s box? They’re watching it on TV because you’d have to be right against the glass to see the actual game below them.
Emily is downright annoying. There’s something about the way she delivers her lines—or maybe it’s the lines themselves—that is grating. Tyler isn’t so bad, but he isn’t in it as much.
Carla kills the concession worker in the bathroom, and no one notices. Wouldn’t a murder during the game prompt a shut-down of the game and a massive investigation? Or, because no authorities are allowed inside, won’t more people notice they can’t call out? Or is the body found, and no one can call out? Or there’s nothing that can be done because no authorities can go inside? There is absolutely no reason for Carla to kill that woman and risk everything.
Why isn’t Emily killed? Obviously Foss and his people don’t care that she’s just a girl. Is it really only because Carla doesn’t have bullets, and the Vice President makes a threat to Foss? Just seems weird, and even though she’s a kid she’s a loose end Foss likely wouldn’t tolerate. Maybe the terrorists really aren’t comfortable laying their hands on people to kill them, which is why they use so many guns the whole movie.
Regardless, the movie is still good for rewatching. It’s a lot of fun and has a good hero and, more importantly, a good villain, one of those you love to hate.