“I can’t wait to watch my daddy kick your ass.”
In what could very well be the first remake of a “Die Hard on/in a ___” film, Welcome to Sudden Death, featuring Michael Jai White under the direction of Dallas Jackson, is the almost scene-by-scene remake of 1995’s Van Damme classic, Sudden Death. This time around, the hero is not a former firefighter, but instead ex-special forces.
Jesse (White), a family man with severe flashbacks from his time serving in the Middle East, struggles to balance time with his two children and his current job as a security guard at the Phoenix Falcons basketball arena. Too often prioritising work – subconsciously making up for his errors in war – Jesse takes his kids to the game, with a brief tour of his job, in order to establish a stronger bond. However, after a system malfunction, an external tech team is brought in to fix the problem… and fix the security team one-by-one, as part of their terrorist operation, led by ex-CIA agent Jobe (Michael Eklund). With the Governor, celebrities and thousands of fans at the whim of a ticking bomb, can Jesse rebound the attacks of the terrorists and save the day?
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Michael Jai White, as Jesse, is an unbelievable spectacle. An absolute brick sh*thouse. His fighting, when required, almost resembles a hybrid of both Van Damme and Seagal. His skills here and there, however, go way beyond any realistic nature at times. White’s presentation and physique is so ultra masculine, yet not quite grotesque. There is an element of self-aware hilarity whenever Jesse manages to fluke a skill move or minor set piece. Equipped with a t-shirt cannon when outnumbered by terrorists in the VIP box ultimately sums up this film.
The ridiculousness exists all throughout Welcome to Sudden Death and way beyond exclusivity to its lead character. Equipped with a comedy sidekick in the guise of hopeless (and often clueless) janitor Gus (Gary Owen), his presence can be likened to that of the airport janitor, Marvin (Tom Bower) in Die Hard 2, just much worse. Incidentally, Gus does openly reference the concept of Die Hard to Jesse. Unfortunately, the weak supporting characters extends to the terrorists too. The lead villain, Jobe, poses little to no interest in his existence as a villain. There’s just no substance there. Powers Boothe in the 1995 film, though far from iconic as your Hans Grubers of this world, at least executed some degree of character when donning an obviously fake wig and moustache.
Existentially, Welcome to Sudden Death is a disaster in two individual cases: as a remake, and as an action film. With only minor changes present – firefighter to special forces, hockey to basketball, and no fight against a mascot – the excessive repetition, though not quite shot-for-shot levels seen in Psycho, ultimately establishes the film as a cheap rip-off. As an action film, this one lacks any intensity or any truly good sequences, set pieces, or fights. Though the lighter tone is different, the fusion of that with its familiar output to the original, the end product is close to parody at times. It’s almost possible to parallel Welcome to Sudden Death and Sudden Death with Scary Movie and Scream.
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In the end, whilst it isn’t essential to watch Sudden Death before Welcome to Sudden Death, the former is a much more satisfying viewing. Quality aside, the notable and welcomed difference between the two is that, whilst the original is completely ridiculous (as is every Die Hard knock-off), at least this direct-to-video remake is extremely self-aware in its approach. It’s stupidly tongue-in-cheek. There is a clear attempt from Dallas Jackson to create something good, but it falls too flat way too often. Jackson’s direction of White, however, is the best aspect of this film.
Welcome to Sudden Death is out on DVD on 22nd March from Dazzler Media.