Synopsis – After deadly terrorists abduct his niece at a soccer match, an ex-soldier with lethal fighting skills wages a one-man war to save her and prevent mass destruction.
My Take – It’s been 30 years since director John McTiernan‘s ’88 classic action film Die Hard released, yet till date it upholds its quality. A key element in its success is how it drops an average Joe directly into the middle of a chaotic situation. Outnumbered, out-gunned, and beat to hell by the end, our lead, Bruce Willis‘s John McClane is an underdog we went on instantly cheering for. While the formula was implemented numerous times, all throughout the 90s, with largely good results, in the form of films like Under Siege, Passenger 57, Speed, Toy Soldiers, among others, it finally got exhausting after a while, that is until the success of the Antoine Fuqua directed 2013 film Olympus Has Fallen starring Gerard Butler, ignited spark into the very familiar premise.
And now, on an admittedly smaller budget, you can easily add this film from director Scott Mann (The Tournament), into the list of fun Die Hard inspirations, which more precisely is actually an inspiration of the 1994 Jean-Claude Van Damme led flop, Sudden Death. In my opinion, the best way to describe this film would be ‘Die Hard in a football stadium’. I must admit, I approached this film with incredibly low expectations, faintly hoping it would prove a passable slice of Thursday night entertainment and ended being pleasantly surprised by this as it turned out be a very enjoyable action flick which has been paced excellently to ensure the audience has at least a decent ride.
Yes, the film is filled with clichés and is backed by a predictable story line, but with Dave Bautista, who seems to be getting more capable by the day, leading the charge, it’s downright audacious plot turned out to be big, fun, brash, muscular and utterly enjoyable.
The story follows Michael Knox (Dave Bautista), a tough as nails US veteran who often comes to the U.K. to check in on the family of his best friend, who was killed in action during a military mission in Afghanistan. Often working as the mediator between the widowed wife, Rachel (Lucy Gaskell) and her daughter, Danni (Lara Peake), a teenage rebel, his latest surprise visit comes with a pair of tickets for a big soccer/football match that evening, and while she’s grounded for her bad taste in boys Danni is given reluctant permission by her mom for the outing.
Unknown to them, Arkady (Ray Stevenson), a former military revolutionist from Sekovia, a Russian republic, is also going to be at the stadium with his group of unsavory Sekovian militants to take the control room at the Boleyn Ground hostage during the game so he can comb the crowd for his presumed dead brother, Dimitri (Pierce Brosnan), who is rumored to be attending the match. Just in case their nefarious plan goes awry, they has also rigged the stadium with explosives. But when Danni disappears during the game to meet up with a boy, Mike sets out to find her and in the process, he walks right into Arkady’s plot.
With no one including the police aware of the situation, Mike must use his very special set of skills and the help of Faisal (Amit Shah), a hapless stadium attendant, to save Dani and everyone in the stadium from becoming the victim of a major terrorist incident.
The setting is hardly new territory, perhaps apart from in the literal sense, by using West Ham’s former home stadium setting, trading happily in all of the conventional Die Hard formula tropes it can muster, from the hapless accomplice to the girl in danger, to the last resort explosives and even the disbelieving police. It even borrows two key plot elements form Die Hard. Namely, the hero dropping a body from a height to alert the authorities of the situation, and the hero using a handheld radio to communicate with a police officer on the outside at regular intervals. But the simple yet effective premise is explored well enough affording a montage-driven opening scene-setter and a hint of welcome character background before we dive right into the mayhem.
Apparently from its production stage itself, ‘the film has been referred to as ‘Die Hard in a football stadium’ but unlike other ‘Die Hard’ inspirations, most notably the recent ‘Skyscraper’ starring Dwayne Johnson, the film never takes itself too seriously. In doing so and in keeping to a concise, close to real-time running length of 104 minutes, which adds to the excitement, it ends up being the exact over-the-top, senseless fun film that all the best and classic action films are. Yes, there is no subtlety in the film whatsoever, from the violin music that plays when Danni talks of her deceased father, to the slow motion cinematography every time Michael sees something suspicious. The terrorists in the stands, cold and unblinking, stand out like a sore thumb among the cheering, enthusiastic football fans.
When the exits and cell phone communication are shut down, there are so many shots to illustrate the point that one is tempted to shout at the screen that we get it already! Also because every onscreen tough guy needs to have a comedic sidekick, Amit Shah appears as Faisal, a shy and socially awkward employee at the stadium who unwillingly gets caught up in the madness. In terms of personality, Faisal is the polar opposite of Knox, and the back and forth between the two characters will surely bring a smile to your face. The same cannot be said for the fact that many of the characters in the film mistake Faisal for a terrorist because of his ethnicity, because it’s too late in the day to find humor in stereotyping.
And yet there is so much entertainment to be had from its amusing characters and energetic action – which includes sequences of Dave Bautista jumping off buildings (with some dodgy CGI involved) and driving a motorcycle through a stadium as well as skillful combat sequences – that you really won’t care. Improvised fights in kitchens, henchmen with a vendetta, complications involving agencies working above the police, and crazy antics in high locations – the film wraps it all up in one big, fairly action-packed package. The action sequences are also suitably insane and take place all around the Boleyn Ground, from the elevators to the kitchens to the roof. The action is effective, capturing the brutality of some of the fight scenes – which are all satisfyingly violent – and the scale of the bigger stunts and set pieces notwithstanding the restrictive confines of the film’s budget and setting.
Needless to say, the film’s unique setting is just as important of a character as the human beings who are attempting to kill each other inside it, and is one of the main reasons why this film is worth watching. Indeed, considering this is the same production house which gave us the thoroughly terrible Hurricane Heist, and the modesty watchable Anon, this one is something of a great result. If there is a weak link to the film it has to be undoubtedly its cartoonish and forgettable team of bad guys and a girl, who despite their supposed dangerous appearances very taken down without much effort.
It’s safe to say that none of this would have worked without a believable leading man, and Dave Bautista is the main ingredient here, as delivers both on the charm offensive and with sheer brute force. After years in professional wrestling, Bautista started out with small roles in smaller films that is until his role as Drax in the MCU film, Guardians of the Galaxy and Blade Runner 2049 turned him into a viable action star. While this film won’t do much to help or hurt his career, but it pretty much can assure producers out there that he can actually carry a film on his own.
Amit Shah also does good work as sidekick Faisal whose efforts to save lives see him butting up against Middle Eastern “terrorist” stereotypes, and Lara Peake is also a spunky delight who avoids the usual annoyance of kid characters in distress. Ray Stevenson too seems to be having fun with his clichéd bad guy character. Pierce Brosnan is arguably the biggest name on display here, which is why it seems strange that aside from delivering a speech about his favorite chicken from when he lived on a farm, he is given very little to do. In smaller roles, Ralph Brown and Lucy Gaskell are alright. On the whole, ‘Final Score’ is a ridiculously fun action flick which despite its obvious inspiration manages to provide terrific entertainment.
Directed – Scott Mann
Rated – R
Run Time – 104 minutes