‘Welcome to Sudden Death’ Movie Review: Jai Hard

The original Sudden Death was a Jean-Claude Van Damme vehicle. It was Die Hard in a hockey arena and it was one of the more fun Die Hard knockoffs of the era. Welcome to Sudden Death is a vehicle for Michael Jai White and there are so many new places to take the franchise. This time it’s a basketball arena! That’s totally different! What will they think of next, a soccer stadium? Oh, Dave Bautista already made that movie. 

Welcome to Sudden Death fight
Michael Jai White kicking a bad guy | Universal Studios Home Entertainment

Universal Studios Home Entertainment has been mining their back catalog for potential franchises. Even though they don’t have the budgets of their blockbuster movie predecessors, movies like Backdraft 2 and Kindergarten Cop 2 take their franchise seriously. Sudden Death had great potential for a new action vehicle. It’s not exactly Sudden Death 2, but it’s Welcome to Sudden Death.

Hi, I’m Michael Jai White, and ‘Welcome to Sudden Death’

Jesse Freeman (White) was an Iraq War veteran. You get to see him fight some insurgents in the cold open. Years later, he’s finally able to provide for his family again as a security guard. He takes his kids to see the Phoenix Falcons play at the stadium where he works, though he leaves them in their seats to handle a scuffle between patrons. 

Michael Jai White | Universal Studios Home Entertainment

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Alpha (Michael Eklund) and his team of bad guys sneak into the stadium, first as WiFi repairmen. They sneak in guns that have no metal but only fire six shots each. Then they don security uniforms and hold rapper Milli (Anthony Gant) and his handler Diana (Sabryn Rock) hostage in the VIP box along with the mayor (Kristen Harris) and Governor (Paul Essiembre).

That was too much synopsis. Put simply, Welcome to Sudden Death is still Die Hard in a stadium with Jesse fighting off bad guys one by one, or sometimes a few at a time. 

‘Sudden Death’ as a Michael Jai White vehicle

These Die Hard homages are only as good as their action heroes. Steven Seagal and Wesley Snipes did good ones, and Nicolas Cage had The Rock. White is the perfect sort of movie martial artist for this sort of movie, let alone a sequel to Van Damme’s Die Hard knock off.

Welcome to Sudden Death
Three bad guys outnumbered by Michael Jai White (right) | Universal Studios Home Entertainment

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Some guys are no match for White and be has fun with them. Others are more formidable, and he can even take on three at a time. There are some fun locations within the stadium, but the fights are mostly all about White’s moves. He does use some stadium paraphernalia as weapons occasionally. Welcome to Sudden Death can’t afford to drop a helicopter into the arena, but it’s still cool. 

Is it a remake or a sequel?

Jesse Freeman was not Van Damme’s character. Van Damme played Darren McCord. That alone makes Welcome to Death a sequel about new characters.

Available now | Universal Studios Home Entertainment

Yet, some events in the plot happen exactly as they did in 1995’s Sudden Death. Jesse orders his son to stay in his seat no matter what. Alpha’s team manages to get Jesse’s daughter, so the stakes are about the same. Alpha is ransoming his hostages for a billion dollars by the end of the game. Still, nothing says Darren McCord never saved that hockey arena in 1995.

Alpha’s motivation in Welcome to Sudden Death is a bit more modern. He’s killed an innocent Muslim family and Diana prosecuted him. He suffered the consequences for a mistake on the job, and instead of learning from it he’s blaming others and causing more death and destruction. 

Welcome to Sudden Death: Jesse and Gus
L-R: Gary Owen, Michael Jai White | Universal Studios Home Entertainment

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Jesse is friends with the stadium janitor, Gus (Gary Owen). Gus knows the hallways so he can help. There’s not much of a chase, but Gus helps Jesse evade Alpha’s men. Gus explicitly references Die Hard and then goes way too far with it. Security guards also have tablets which help them with GPS layouts of the stadium. Van Damme only had old school maps. 

Not only is Sudden Death a great ‘90s action gem that deserves its new life as a 2020 franchise, but it’s great to see the Die Hard scenario again. It was big in the ‘90s and they may have exhausted all the confined locations where one hero could face off against multiple villains. Hopefully, the last 25 years has inspired more Die Hard riffs, but at the very least give us a low budget Under Siege 3 or Passenger 58!