Awfully Good: Sudden Death

Last Updated on July 31, 2021

In honor of the late great Powers Boothe, let's take a look at one of my favorite Powers Boothe performances…


Sudden Death (1995)


Director: Peter Hyams
Stars: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Powers Boothe, Raymond J. Barry

When the Vice President is taken hostage during the final game of the Stanley Cup, the only person capable of saving him is a fire marshal who can do the splits on two chairs.

As far as DIE HARD ripoffs go, SUDDEN DEATH is one of the better ones. Part of the fun comes from replacing Bruce Willis' "everyman" hero John McClane with heavenly-accented asskicking machine Jean-Claude Van Damme. You can just picture the studio meeting that led to this movie:

"It's like DIE HARD, but instead of a boring office building, the terrorists take over a hockey game where people are already fighting anyways. And instead of that guy from Moonlighting, bring me f*cking TIMECOP!"

Jean-Claude Van Damme looking in to a mirror.

SUDDEN DEATH may not be as outright bad as other Van Damme movies (DOUBLE TEAM, STREET FIGHTER), but it has an odd streak or silliness that undermines much of what does work about the film. Allegedly, writer Randy Feldman (TANGO AND CASH, NOWHERE TO RUN) initially conceived the movie to be a parody of 90s action flicks and it really does feel like it. There's just so much of SUDDEN DEATH that seems to belong in a comedy. Here are a few examples:

"Say I'm from the North Pole one more time!"

1) There's a chase and fight sequence between Van Damme and a woman in an unwieldy, oversized Icee the Penguin mascot costume that is played 100% seriously. In a normal movie, they would at least find a way to remove the penguin's head so it didn't look like our hero was violently assaulting a Disneyworld employee. But, no, in SUDDEN DEATH, you're treated to an extended fight sequence between the star of BLOODSPORT and fluffy water fowl. The brawl takes place in a kitchen, where Van Damme sticks the Penguin's hand in a deep fryer, shoves her giant head in to an exhaust fan, and even grabs hot peppers and pours them in to the mascot's costumed mouth—all before the Penguin gets slowly sucked in to a dishwasher until she dies. It's a sight to behold.

2) Van Damme later takes a security guard back to the same kitchen, only to learn that he too is a bad guy! So now there's a very similar second fight in the exact same location. To spice things up this time around, Van Damme ends the scene by stabbing the man to death in the neck with a chicken bone that just happens to be lying around.

Not everyone was thrilled that HAPPY FEET won the Oscar for Best Animated Movie.

3) In a completely extraneous scene, a dead guy drives a Zamboni full of corpses out to the police for no discernible reason.

4) To escape from some bad guys, Van Damme dresses like a hockey player, only to inadvertently get pulled out on to the ice and forced to play goalie during the fourth quarter of the Stanley Cup finals. With the Vice President's life on the line and literal bombs waiting to be disarmed, the movie takes a break for a fish-out-of-water scene that honestly belongs in a wacky comedy. But of course, our hero makes the game-winning save against professional athletes. He then does sign language to send a message to his son in the stands, because this part of the movie needed to be even more stupid.

5) In order to break in to the bad guys' luxury suite, Van Damme scales the outside of the massive arena, opens the top of the stadium, and jumps down using assorted ropes and zip lines until he's close enough to the suite to throw his homemade explosives at it. Oh yeah, Van Damme's character is also smart and knows how to science together a bomb using materials found in a stadium bathroom.

Everyone at the annual meeting of the John Woo Fan Club could barely contain their excitement.

Peter Hyams (TIMECOP, A SOUND OF THUNDER) knows how to direct a competent action scene and still manages to make SUDDEN DEATH entertaining and exciting in spite of how stupid the script is. (FYI, the final screenplay is credited to the writer of OPERATION DUMBO DROP and POLICE ACADEMY 3-5 in case you needed more of a warning.) Given how ludicrous some of the above scenes are, you have to assume the filmmakers were in on the joke, but regardless, the movie miraculously works and fits nicely alongside other goofy 90s thrillers.

The rivalry between fans of the 1994 STREET FIGHTER movie and STREET FIGHTER: THE LEGEND OF CHUN LI was very real.

Jean-Claude Van Damme is fun as Darren McCord, although I do not buy the idea that JCVD would ever be named "Darren." The film never bothers to explain how a random fire marshal is a martial arts expert more capable than any cop or secret service agent, as well as a scientist able to both build and disable complex explosive devices. Nevertheless, armed with a Super Soaker filled with lighter fluid and a blow gun he MacGuyvered out of a paper clip and a condom, Van Damme is here to save the day and rescue his painfully irritating children. His smart-ass daughter is stupid enough to get taken hostage, not once, but twice. And his son, played by SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE's Ross Mallinger, is also a moron—staying in his seat even though everything in the stadium is exploding around him—literally because his dad told him to stay put. His final emotional scene with his father, where he tearfully cries "I didn't move, Dad!", is one of the film's funniest moments.

Disguise was the only way Powers Boothe could avoid the army of rabid MACGRUBER fans.

However, the best part of SUDDEN DEATH has to be Powers Boothe's unnamed villain. (And I'm not just saying that because of his recent passing.) Boothe was memorable in so many roles, but his carefree, smarmy terrorist from this movie is definitely one of my favorites. He's such a glorious dick to everyone that you can't help but almost root for him. He randomly shoots people just so he can make a punch line, carries around a lighter that looks like a bomb detonator just to mess with the hostages, and tells Van Damme's daughter, "Would you like it if I filled your little mouth with spiders?" He may not get the respect he deserves in the end, being forced to wear a hilariously bad wig-mustache combo and perishing in the slowest helicopter crash ever, but you'll leave SUDDEN DEATH singing Boothe's praises.

Can we just take a moment to acknowledge that this man's first name was Powers and how awesome that is?

Some of the best one liners, most courtesy of the great Powers Boothe.

From mascot fights to death by chicken wing, enjoy the films best action scenes.

This shot of JCVD naked with two lion cubs is not from the movie (sadly), but I like to share it whenever I get the chance.

RIP Powers Boothe! Buy this movie here!

Take a shot or drink every time:

  • Van Damme does sign language
  • The movie tells you how much time is left until face off
  • Powers Boothe is great
  • Van Damme's daughter gives someone a stamp
  • The hockey commentators make a bad joke

Double shot if:

  • Van Damme kills somebody in the kitchen


Thanks to Jaime and Tex for suggesting this week's movie!


Seen a movie that should be featured on this column? Shoot Jason an email or follow him on Twitter and give him an excuse to drink.


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