Security guard Jesse (Michael Jai White) has brought his kids to enjoy a basketball game while he goes about work. As the game gets underway, a group of mercenaries lead by the mysterious Jobe (Michael Eklund) take out Jesse’s security colleagues, plant bombs and take the VIPs hostage. However, their plan meets an almighty roundhouse kick in the form of Jesse and his special forces skill set. With time ticking can the soldier stop the bad guys, save the hostages and keep an eye on his kids before the game ends in a massive explosion?
While never hitting the box office leading man heights like Arnold Schwarznegger, Slyvester Stallone or Jean-Claude Van Damme, Michael Jai White has worked his way to action legend success thanks to a varied career that has helped hone his acting and frequently demonstrates his superb martial arts skills.
Die-hard comic book movie fans will remember him as the big-screen iteration of Todd McFarlane’s Spawn back in 1997; becoming the first African American to portray a major comic book superhero in a major motion picture. Nearly 20 years after Spawn, comedy spoof fans will definitely know him for his loving tribute to Blaxploitation as the kung-fu kicking Black Dynamite. Outside of these roles, Michael Jai White’s acting resume is still loaded with contributions to franchises such as Mortal Kombat, Undisputed and even in The Dark Knight as Gambol.
Now in his fifties, White continues to play prominent action-focused roles. While many of them head to home release, it’s worth noting that White still looks incredible doing it. Welcome to Sudden Death is another comfortable entry in the action star’s resume.
If the title Sudden Death in movies sounds awfully familiar, it’s because Welcome to Sudden Death is pretty much a reimagining of the 1995 Jean-Claude Van Damme hostage thriller. For some international markets, it’s being promoted as Sudden Death 2. Having watched the film, this writer personally sees this as quite inaccurate especially when there are no references to the original. It’s common for film markets to repurpose their title to get more eyes on it. Welcome to Sudden Death is not the first and won’t be the last films to follow that line of promotion, hopefully, it doesn’t put too many film fans off.
While sharing the same premise of the 1995 production, Welcome to Sudden Death can be easily described as a scaled-down retread in almost every way. Ice hockey becomes national league basketball. The important VIPs who become the hostages of the film’s villains are not political anymore, they’re just tech millionaires and rap stars. And the serious and tense tone of the movie is considerably lighter and can be easily mistaken for a Sunday afternoon tv special; despite the modest body count.
That’s not a bad thing entirely. There’s a cliched but acceptable subplot of our hero having to keep an eye on his kids while trying to save the day to add a little bit of wholesomeness to proceedings. It’s clear the film wants to be a bit broader than a violent action film. These small tonal changes are perfectly fine. Other attempts to lighten the mood almost derail it from passable flick to insufferable cringe.
Case and point is the character of Gus, played by comedian Gary Owen, who is the lone janitor assisting White take on the bad guys. He’s often on hand to disperse some over-exaggerated meta musings. He highlights that the events happening are just like Die Hard. He pulls shocked faces and stupidly gets his ass handed to him by one of the villains. He means well but in no real way does he in the film comes across as likeable. In short, aggravating than welcoming.
The scaled-back approach hinders the film most noticeably in the adversary department. Despite his revenge motive, Michael Eklund’s ex-CIA agent turned terrorist leader is hardly menacing and his gang are a basic set of cardboard cutouts of expendable bad guys. You can’t take them seriously when they all at times throughout the movie just dabble into the off-kilter humour and hardly put up much fight for White. If any of the villains are remotely menacing, it’s Jiu Jitsu’s Marrese Crump as the gleeful unhinged adversary White will have to deal with over the course of the film.
And that is generally why we’re here, aren’t we? Heroic ass kickery and thankfully, the film lets Michael Jai White do what he does best by demonstrating his martial art skills and keeping us invested with his likeable leading man qualities. It’s perfectly serviceable action and when you’re here to see asses getting kicked and faces being punched, Welcome to Sudden Death is more than happy to oblige.
You will not find anything jaw-dropping or transformational with Welcome to Sudden Death as an action film. But, for action film junkies looking for something quick to pass the time, taking on bad guys with Michael Jai White is certainly one way to do it. It’s not perfect but its heart is in the right place.
Welcome to Sudden Death (2020)
Despite being scaled back in budget, tone and stakes when compared to the 1995 original, Welcome to Sudden Death is a swift and serviceable bit of action cinema thanks mostly to Michael Jai White’s action chops and a brisk 80 minutes.
Reviewed by Iain Boulton
Welcome to Sudden Death is now available to buy on DVD and on digital streaming services.