As a child, which movie stars did you idolize? Depending on when you were a kid, movie stars of different genres and styles may appeal in one way more than another. As a child of the 1980s, Arnold Schwarzenegger reached the heights one could imagine as a child. Luckily, I grew up able to watch movies that a kid like me probably shouldn’t have seen. Movies like Schwarzenegger Predator, Robotcopand Sylvester Stallone Rocky IV were cohesive videotapes that would fill my top-loading VCR. People look at the 1980s with rose-colored glasses, but there are parts of that decade that really live up to the hype.
The 1980s showcased the best and worst that cinema had to offer. Emerging from the new Hollywood era of the 1970s, bold, independent films gave way to more commercial properties aimed at maximizing the box office. Trading is not necessarily a bad thing. Heck, some of Hollywood’s best comedies, dramas, and especially action movies hit theaters in this decade. Movies such as Deadly weapon, missing in actionand Commando cinemas dominated, but one film stood above all others: die hard.
Everyone and their aunt know about John McClane’s first adventure: a blue-collar cop trapped in a skyscraper and fighting terrorists. The simplistic-sounding title does a perfect job of summing up the simplistic-sounding plot synopsis. And anyone who’s seen the movie knows there’s a lot more going on in the film’s 132 minutes. One of the most influential aspects of die hard came about how people described action movies after the movie was released. Gone are the days of endless plot synopses and spoiler-filled descriptors. Walk in “die hard on a -.” It’s simple, to the point, and replaced the wordy summaries that did the heavy lifting of breaking down a movie. Under Siege? die hard on a boat. Air conditioning? die hard on a plane. Under Siege 2: Dark Territory? die hard In a train. After the release of John McClane’s first adventure, wrapping up a movie has never been easier.
And while die hard elevated action movies from mindless entertainment to serious cinema, those looking to get away from it all always found options. As the timeline shifted from the 1980s to the 1990s, plenty of action heroes remained, ready to do their own brand of justice for 90 simplistic minutes. Movie stars like Chuck Norris, Michael Dudikoff and Charles Bronson have produced plenty of movies to satisfy any action movie fan’s desire. Even NFL player Brian Bosworth threw his hat in the ring with cold stone. While Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone are A-list stars in the action genre, Chuck Norris, Michael Dudikoff and Charles Bronson fall into the B- and C-Tier. Just because an actor isn’t A-List doesn’t mean they can’t deliver A-List action.
Take, for example, the Brussels Muscles, Jean-Claude Van Damme. Released in the mid 80s, blood sport made JCVD a Hollywood name as he rose through the acting ranks with Kickboxer, universal soldierand the American director effort of John Woo, hard target. Although he was never known for producing the best action, there was enough escapism in Van Damme’s films to make his movies easily digestible.
Van Damme’s heyday came in the mid-90s. Riding on the highs that John Woo can provide, JCVD made it the biggest hit of his career with timecop. In no case is timecop a masterpiece or even that good movie, but the lofty concept, entertaining visuals, and solid direction helped plant a flag to mark a high point in the action star’s resume. Having a high-concept action blockbuster under his belt, one would assume the sky’s the limit.
And came street fighter. I don’t want to delve into why this 1994 video game adaptation killed all of JCVD’s momentum, because that’s an article for another day. Let’s just say that Van Damme’s ego and cocaine habit clouded his judgment during this time and delayed the momentum that had been building. Needing a shot (pun intended), Jean-Claude Van Damme returned to the pit and reteamed with his timecop director, Peter Hyams, for the 1995 action film, Sudden death.
And, boy, was that a welcome return. Taking the well-known and established formula from Bruce Willis’ 1988 action classic, the description of Sudden death is die hard in a hockey rink.
Tell the story of a firefighter who became a fire marshal for the Pittsburgh penguins hockey team, Jean-Claude Van Damme plays Darren McCord. After a tragedy at work, his heroism is on the wane. Now changing the light bulbs in the arena, McCord scores Stanley Cup Game 7 tickets for his two children. Also present is the Vice President of the United States, seated in a luxury box. Unbeknownst to McCord or anyone associated with the Vice President, a group of terrorists infiltrate the arena, led by Joshua Foss – Powers Boothe in a glorious scenery-chewing performance, and hold the Vice President in hostage. While those present ignore the drama unfolding in the luxury dressing room and obsess over the game, only McCord can foil the terrorists’ plot, rescue the Vice President, and keep everyone in the arena safe.
As you can see, the plans of Sudden death are identical to Die hard. Does it do Sudden death a terrible movie? Certainly not! Imitation is the highest form of flattery.
I hear you asking what makes Sudden death the best action movie of the 80s of the 90s. First of all, if you are going to copy the model of a movie, you make sure that it is a good piece of cinema. You build your idea and find a balance to perfect the action, characters, plot, etc. And while this article is subjective, I hear people claiming Under Siege, The rapidityWhere The rockI find that no other movie feels quite right as a non 80s action movie than Sudden death.
I’ll start by eliminating the baffles. I have never been a fan of Muscles de Bruxelles. His limited acting skills, mixed with a lack of humor and conscientiousness, hamper any hopes of him being a top action hero. Although he later revealed himself with Expendables II, JCVD, and the most recent entries of the Kickboxer franchise, the first half of his career was difficult. What you’re stuck with around 1995 was resource limited.
What director Peter Hyams has done with these limitations is understand them, let JCVD do what it does best, and surround it with enough bells and whistles, without letting the man main drag the movie. Most of the movie has JCVD running around the arena alone, taking out terrorists and defusing bombs. No unnecessary chatter, no speeches inciting intrigue. Just keep it moving, kick ass and save the day.
As JCVD works to save the day, Powers Boothe saves the movie. Anyone unfamiliar with the actor knows he has a commanding presence, an authoritative voice, and a penchant for casting memorable villainous roles. Powers Boothe is and always will be one of Hollywood’s finest character actors. From his turn in tomb stonethe underrated Extreme harmor as Cy Tolliver in dead wood, the man knew how to steal a scene (or a film). And that’s exactly what he does in Sudden death.
While Alan Rickman’s Hans Gruber stole the show in die hard, Powers Booth does the same. What a mean stockbroker who threatens everyone by extorting money; Boothe’s Joshua Foss goes from stock to memorable with a maniacally happy undercurrent throughout the film. And there is a threat, including the killing of hostages after the end of each period. Boothe’s performance and Hyams’ direction never dwell on violence. The two balance skillfully Sudden death keeping it a “fun” R-rated movie instead of a gritty, realistic tone and closer to 1980s action movies.
The other aspect that elevates Sudden death above most other action films comes with the use of locations. What’s the point of shooting in the Civic Arena, home of the Penguins, if you’re not using every square inch of the space? Thankfully, over the film’s 110 minutes, Hyams and JCVD give audiences as much sightseeing as possible.
As mentioned earlier, Powers Boothe is holding the Vice President and an assortment of hostages in a luxury booth. Meanwhile, Jean-Claude Van Damme clashes with goons in the kitchen, underground access areas, through the crowd and in the player’s locker room. The climax of these comes with the kitchen fight as McCord battles a villainess dressed as the Pittsburgh Penguins mascot. How cool is that?
Let’s raise the bar even further. At one point, JCVD’s character steals a Pittsburgh Penguins goalie uniform and is forced onto the ice to play hockey. Does that make any sense? Not at all, but I love it! Add in a visit to the owner’s box, non-hockey use of a Zamboni, and a trip to the retractable roof, and you have a movie that ticks all the boxes!
And what I like Sudden death and ’80s action movies as a whole are written more for the moment than planning for the future. There is a melancholy where logic is set aside to serve experience. While we all love die hard, there are a lot of leaps in logic that we look past because the movie is fun and entertaining. When you have a good, simple story with precise direction and a cast firing on all cylinders, timing is more important than logic.
It is the same for Sudden death. Am I saying it’s at the level of Die hard? Not by far. I’m saying everything you love about classic 80s action movies has found its way into this 1995 JCVD movie. It’s simple. That’s on point. And he never stops to make sure you have a good time. And Sudden death is a good time and then some. Without a doubt, for me, this is the best 80s action movie of the 90s.