by Lucy Leitner
Due to the circumstances, it is fair and applicable to say that Sudden Death has more holes than imaginary goalie Brad Tolliver. However, while the fictional Penguins netminder allowed four goals in game seven of the Stanley Cup Final, all the missing elements of the 1995 Jean-Claude Van Damme action flick are quickly glossed over by, well, the fact that it’s a Jean-Claude Van Damme movie.
Or maybe it’s because certain things only make sense to Pittsburghers. Of course there are fireworks between the second and third periods of a hockey game. Sometimes there are fireworks during the Monday evening rush hour. Of course a former semi-pro French Canadian hockey goalie became Pittsburgh firefighter because this is the greatest city ever and why be paid to play a sport when you can wear the bluest of blue collars here? And when you start wondering why it was necessary for said hero to have been kicked off the fire force (or whatever it’s called) for being a “headcase” after failing to save a young girl, there’s an explosion.
Yes, Sudden Death plugs its plot holes by blowing massive ones in the late Civic Arena. Penned by Karen Elise Baldwin, the wife of then Penguins owner Howard Baldwin, and Police Academy sequel writer Gene Quintano, the film is fun action movie fare made near awesome by its Pittsburgh setting.
It’s game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals. The vice president of the United States is in the building to watch the Penguins battle the Chicago Blackhawks. Unfortunately, so are a bunch of criminal henchmen following one rather dandified arch villain—and noted mini-mall detractor—Joshua Foss (Powers Boothe). Also in attendance is Civic Arena fire marshal Darren McCord (Van Damme) and his two children, Emily and Tyler. Luckily, McCord is Jean-Claude Van Damme, so by the end of this thing, Foss won’t know whether to cry or wind his $15,000 watch.
Oh yeah, Mike Lange’s here, too, along with Paul Steigerwald. Notorious enforcer and telestrationist Jay Caufield and his missing front tooth play pugilistic goaltender Brad Tolliver and Luc Robitaille is himself and while actors portray other Penguins stars Kevin Stevens, Ron Francis, Ulf Samuelsson, and a certain alliterative Czech douche who shall remain nameless. Durable anthem singer/ Kiss tribute artist Jeff Jimerson sings a National Anthem punctuated by machine gun fire that ranks it slightly more entertaining than Measha Brueggergosman’s operatic laughfest before last Saturday’s Penguins-Senators game.
Foss wants $1.7 billion of the US government’s money. If he doesn’t get one-third of the amount transferred each period, he’ll kill another person in the owner’s box until he runs out of “annoying” people like the mayor’s wife and then he’ll blow up the building, which apparently would have saved a lot of taxpayer money and time devoted to arguing about what constitutes landmark statuses.
But Foss starts losing his liquor license when an imposter dressed as Iceburgh abducts Emily and sets the French-Canadian fire marshal on the tail of his presumably expensive suit. Amidst all the hardened criminals with their action flick one-liners (“If those guys want to see a hockey game so much, maybe we should put them on ice.”), corrupt federal employees, and an out-of-control Zamboni, game seven is underway.
While to outsiders it may seem unrealistic that the fans have no idea that the place is rigged to blow, that Iceburgh (or Icey in this case) is an imposter, and that the Igloo is currently surrounded by emergency vehicles, these skeptics have clearly never been to Pittsburgh. There is nothing else when the game is on. And much like South Side bouncers will not let British movie stars into bars without ID, a face-painted self-proclaimed puckhead with a puck on his head will put the bad guys in their place.
While each battle McCord engages in is epic in its own right and the pace of the hockey game is rather frenetic, there are some other central-to-the-plot questions that beg answers. Why is the vice president attending game seven? Shouldn’t he just wait until the Conn Smyth winner refuses to accept his invitation to the White House the following January? Do we really miss the Igloo that much? Look at the place—it’s dark and stale and there’s no evidence of a Burgatory.
Why does McCord need a haunted past that includes an inability to save a young girl as the impetus to save his daughter from murderous criminals? Shouldn’t the fact that she’s his daughter be enough to save her from murderous criminals? And what exactly in his past of goaltending and firefighting gives him the skills to dismantle bombs, use a Super Soaker as a deadly weapon, and battle legions of henchmen with dishwashers and chicken bones? Why even bring up his past when it is so incongruous with the present? It would make much more sense had he been a member of the Deadly Viper Assassin Squad.
But when we start to think about these things, we are taken back to the hockey game and are left to wonder why Mike Lange was taken off the TV.
And that is the beauty of Sudden Death to a Pittsburgher. We are just as easily distracted from plot holes by hearing our Hall of Fame play-by-play guy shout, “Scratch my back with a hacksaw,” as the fans in the rigged arena are by it.