To commemorate the winter season, we’ll be suggesting a different Netflix streaming recommendation set in the snow each week in the month of January. This week: Sudden Death, a wonderfully goofy action movie set during the final game of the Stanley Cup.
This week’s icy recommendation is Sudden Death — a barely-disguised Die Hard knockoff set at the Stanley Cup — starring the “Muscles from Brussels” himself, Jean-Claude Van Damme. I’ll concede upfront that this is not exactly the kind of movie that ends up raking in critical accolades.
But oh, what a wonderfully goofy experience Sudden Death offers. JCVD plays Darren McCord, a fire marshal assigned to monitor the stadium during Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Chicago Blackhawks. It’s supposed to be a laid-back night, and he even brings his two young children to watch. Unfortunately, a group of terrorists have other ideas: They rig the stadium with explosives, kidnap the vice president, and threaten to wreak mass havoc if they’re not given an exorbitant ransom before the end of the game.
Here, in no particular order, is a list of the things you’ll see if you queue up Sudden Death: A brutal fight scene in which one of the combatants is wearing a full-body penguin costume. A helicopter crashing through a domed stadium. Jean-Claude Van Damme himself making a wildly implausible late-game save when he’s forced to disguise himself as the Pittsburgh goalie. And all of this happens as a stadium full of oblivious fans as they cheer on their teams.
I don’t want to extend my praise too far — this is no all-time classic — but it’s hard to find a good, stripped-down action movie these days, and Sudden Death scratches an itch I didn’t totally realize I had. CGI has so permeated the action genre that even the cheapest entries in the genre routinely top a $100 million budget. Even the Die Hard franchise has fallen prey to the false idea that bigger is always better.
But it wasn’t always like this. Sudden Death is a surprisingly durable relic of the mid-90s — a brief, magical time when a Belgian kick-boxer could top-line a movie and turn it into a major hit.