By: John M Jerva
REVIEW: Welcome To Sudden Death
STARRING: Michael Jai White, Gary Owen, Michael Eklund, Gillian White and Maresse Crump
DIRECTED BY: Dallas Jackson
JESSE FREEMAN (MICHAEL JAI WHITE, BLACK DYNAMITE) IS A FORMER SPECIAL FORCES OFFICER AND EXPLOSIVES EXPERT NOW WORKING A REGULAR JOB AS A SECURITY GUARD IN A STATE-OF-THE-ART BASKETBALL ARENA. TROUBLE ERUPTS WHEN A TECH-SAVVY CADRE OF TERRORISTS KIDNAP THE TEAM’S OWNER AND JESSE’S DAUGHTER DURING OPENING NIGHT. FACING A TICKING CLOCK AND IMPOSSIBLE ODDS, IT’S UP TO JESSE TO NOT ONLY SAVE THEM, BUT ALSO A FULL HOUSE OF FANS IN THIS HIGH-CHARGED ACTION THRILLER.
THE REVIEW: I have a top 5 list of favorite action stars who I always look forward to when I know a project of theirs is coming out. If you know me, like I always say, then you can fill in the blanks with four of them but one individual who has been on that list for years is the always commanding Michael Jai White. The martial arts powerhouse has been a staple in action films for years but he’s done all the genres and to great success but it’s always been the action films that have made me a fan. White owns every role he is in and when it comes to doing action onscreen, well there are hardly any equals. He’s a big man who can move with the best of them and I’ve always said that when you have that much muscle mass and can movie like Jackie Chan then you are without a doubt impressive.
White has starred in some of my favorite action titles over the years including Blood And Bone, Falcon Rising, Undisputed 2: Last Man Standing and, of course, Triple Threat. Blood And Bone is probably my most favorie and my wife’s for that matter and I always enjoy watching it with her. With that, we have MJW’s latest action offering Welcome to Sudden Death which is a remake/sequel to one of JCVD’s all time hits Sudden Death. This film, like his The Hard Way, premiered on Netflix this week along with a simultaneous Blu-Ray/DVD/Digital launch as well. I have been promoting the film heavily on my site abd was looking forward to finally watching it even though the reviews were less than kind. When I say less than kind, that’s sugar coating it but it’s MJW so count me in.
I’m here to tell you all that Welcome To Sudden Death is a mixed bag for me and unfortunately the bag is full with more negative than positve. Lets start with the good stuff and yes there is some people. The highlight is Michael of course. He is one of those actors who can elevate any film that he is in by just being in it. He’s like Frank Grillo to me. I love most of his films too but even the ones I didn’t, I thought he was the best part about it and made me want to continue watching it. White has that presence onscreen and he always brings it no matter what the project is.
Here White plays Jesse Freeman, who is an ex-special forces operative suffering from PTSD due to a mission overseas that went wrong leading to his severe injury and the deaths of comrades. Back home, he’s looking to reconnect with his wife and two children and he even has a new job as a security guard at a high-tech sporting venue. There’s a big basketball game being played today and Jesse decides to bring both his son and daughter to work with him so they can enjoy the game.
Bad news follows as a team of highly trained killers sneak into the arena looking for a big payday and the head of the group known as Alpha (Michael Eklund) wants a little payback too because someone has done him wrong in his eyes. Before Jesse can settle in, he’s battling against a host of baddies who have planted multiple bombs throughout the arena and if they don’t get paid then it’s kaboom for everyone inside. Jesse isn’t going to let that happen and now the clock is ticking as he races to difuse the bombs and stop Alpha and his cronies while saving his kids. All in a day’s work for this action hero.
Now, it’s important to remember that this film was billed as more of a remake of Van Damme’s original more than a sequel so if that plot sounds familiar to you then it should because it’s the one to JC’s film. I knew this going in so I set my expectations low and while watching it, that wasn’t the biggest problem for me. It is perplexing why they had to make it so similar instead of doing their own thing but at least they got a big name like White to step in and carry it and he does because with a lesser known actor, I would have switched it off before it ended but White steals the film into his back because he’s a consummate professional.
Now, I’m all for a good action-comedy and especially in today’s world, we need to laugh but here, making it humorous just took the tension out of the balloon like hot air. Worse yet, White’s co-star Gary Owen who plays a janitor named Gus is sorely out of place and his presence felt forced and worse of all not funny. No offense to Mr. Owen but if you took his character out of the equation then it would have made it gel a whole lot better. I didn’t laugh when I was supposed to and everytime things got serious, he popped up to deflate the tension.
Michael Eklund also stars as the head baddie known as Alpha and I have enjoyed a lot of films he has been in the past like Hunt To Kill and Tactical Force, both of which starred Stone Cold Steve Austin and White in the latter by the way, Eklund is a solid character actor but unfortunately he has big shoes to fill here as he is essentially taking over the role originated by the late, great Powers Boothe in the original. Boothe brought that gravitas to his roles back in the day and his villainous turn as Joshua Foss in the 1995 version was spot on and as much as Eklund worked with what he had, all I thought was that he was no Powers Boothe.
The film which obviously had a lower budget does look more like a TV movie this time around but I will give you that with a running time of 81 minutes, it does move and gets to where it’s going fast but the spectacle of the original just isn’t there. The finale isn’t as bombastic as the ‘95 film and instead of a helicopter going down epicly during the finale, this one doesn’t have anything that sticks out after it’s over. One good point I will make that with a lesser budget, director Dallas Jackson turned the film into more of a martial arts movie as fight sequences don’t cost as much as firefights and explosions.
Now lets talk about the action and like I just said, this time around, there’s a lot more fighting which is always welcome when you have someone of MJW’s caliber involved and here, he does get ample opportunity to display his skill set. Unfortunately, most of the fights are less than memorable and even though White looks as smooth as always, most of the fisticuffs consists of MJW making his opponents look stupid when he engages with them. It’s funny at first but after a while, you want a real fight so you can really see White shine. He does have a longer altercation with one of the assailants played by his real life wife Gillian White and it’s fun to see husband and wife go at it Mr. and Mrs. Smith style. Gillian, just like he other half, has some solid on screen fighting skills and can definitely turn up the heat in a lead female centric action role to which she will be getting with the upcoming Take Back which also co-stars MJW. Seeing her move in this film makes me want to see that film even more.
Now closer to the ending, we do get one extended fight sequence where White’s Jesse takes on a trio of opponents just like he did at the end of Falcon Rising. Here, White gets to clash with martial arts wiz Maresse Crump (The Protector 2, Black Panther) who plays Omega. Crump is another solid fighter and has moves that flow like water and it was great to see him utelized here. Unfortunately once again, their throwdown is short and while it was exciting to watch, it left me wanting more. White also has a closing fight with Eklund’s Alpha but again, he’s really no match for White and while he gets some shots in with double knives, it is rather anti-climatic. I would have preferred to see White have an epic clash with Crump for the finale instead.
MJW is a solid action lead and when he’s given material like Blood and Bone and Triple Threat, he really shines and he deserves more of that. He’s always good in whatever he does but I just don’t know why we get films like this instead of a sequel to Blood and Bone or better yet Falcon Rising which was aiming to be a franchise starter for White. This industry just boggles my mind sometimes and tell me why we didn’t get another one of those. There is a stinger scene during the credits that teases a possible sequel and if White and Crump are involved, I’ll give it a shot but they have to have a longer fight in round 2 if it happens or better yet, team ‘em up.
Welcome To Sudden Death wasn’t the disaster to me like it was for some people but being such a massive fan of White’s, I want better for him. Netflix’s The Hard Way was a lot better than this one and hopefully in the future, White will get a movie that will be worthy of him. I’ll be waiting.