"Sudden Death" is an extremely brutal, mean-spirited "Die Hard" clone, with Jean-Claude Van Damme as the reluctant hero who dodges bad guys in dark corners and talks on a cell-phone with a suave, witty villain (in this case, Powers Boothe), who is killing hostage after hostage.

The setting is a Pittsburgh hockey stadium for the final game of the Stanley Cup, with 60,000 fans in the arena, among them the U.S. vice president.

Enter Boothe and his minions, with an outrageous plan to force the president to transfer funds into international banks if he wants to save the life of his vice president. (There are some obvious political jokes here, but since it's not an election year, we'll avoid them.)

Boothe successfully thwarts the efforts of Secret Service agents and local police as he takes the vice president, the mayor and others hostage — and he then reveals that there are 10 bombs strategically placed around the stadium so that he is effectively holding all 60,000 fans hostage. But, of course, he hasn't counted on Van Damme.

So, when Boothe inadvertently takes Van Damme's young daughter, Van Damme goes into action, disarming the bombs, dropping bad guys left and right, and ultimately going one-on-one with a killer atop the arena's dome — as it begins to open. (Easily the film's most spectacular moment.)

But the story becomes more and more implausible as the film progresses (right down to a ridiculous helicopter finale that has to be seen to be believed). And worse, it also revels in mayhem.

1 comment on this story

More and more, movies in this genre are not content to put innocent bystanders in peril. Rather, they have to be gunned down en masse. In fact, there are so many people quickly put to death in this picture — including characters we've come to care about (chiefly a chef and his wife) — that you may find yourself becoming angry and intolerant in the first 15 minutes.

Director/cinematographer Peter Hyams, who also teamed with Van Damme for "Timecop," knows how to keep the action popping and there are some dramatically intense scenes. But it's far too sadistic.

Or maybe I'm just tired of movies that attempt to get the audience high on rapid-fire killings.

"Sudden Death" is rated R for violence, profanity, vulgarity and locker-room nudity.