If you live anywhere other than Pittsburgh, this movie — much like Striking Distance — is a DVD that you can find in the $1 section. Here, it’s a prized commodity, a remembrance of the Steel City in the 1990’s and a time when the owner of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ wife decided that she wanted to make a movie.
That’s right — Howard Baldwin, chairman of the Pittsburgh Penguins, was one of the film’s backers. The goal was to use the home opened between the Pens and the Chicago Blackhawks as a backdrop, but there was a lockout due to the owners and players not coming to terms. That meant that an exhibition game between the two teams didn’t have the intensity that the filmmakers wanted, so they got the minor league Johnstown Chiefs and Wheeling Thunderbirds to play in front of 3,000 extras, with the rest of the crowd being cardboard cutouts. Seriously — look for the fake fans.
Darren McCord (Van Damme!) may be French Canadian, but he’s a true Yinzer. Once, he was a firefighter but he was unable to save a young girl from a house fire. He lost his wife and barely sees his family, who live in a nice house up on Mt. Washington while he’s probably living in Carrick or Brookline (I’m trying to make this review so Pittsburgh-centric that it will only appear as blips and bleeps to anyone outside of Allegheny County).
Now he’s the fire marshall for the Civic Arena — long gone for the several times renamed PPG Paints Arena — and finds himself in the midst of a terrorist situation when former CIA agent Joshua Foss (Powers Boothe, who played Jim Jones in the made for TV movie Guyana Tragedy: The Story of Jim Jones) wires the Igloo up with explosives and takes the Vice-President hostage.
Yes, this is a movie directly tied into the end of a hockey game causing bombs to blow up an ice hockey arena. A film where JCVD does battle with the Pens’ penguin mascot, Iceburgh. Where even supposed good guys are really on the side of evil. And where Van Damme can create homemade flamethrowers and even get on the ice himself to save the day.
If you’re a fan of 1990’s hockey, this is the film for you. Jay Caufield, Mario Lemieux and Luc Robitaille, as does venerable Pens announcer Mike Lange, who is one of the few announcers left who isn’t some vanilla pretty boy who barely knows the game. Instead, he’s given to loudly shouted Lange-isms like “She wants to sell my monkey!” and “Get in the fast lane, grandma! This bingo game is ready to roll!” You can hear his signature “It’s a hockey night in Pittsburgh!” call in this film as well. Not to brag, but of all the names in my phone, the fact that I have Lange’s makes me probably the happiest (we worked together on several radio commercials).
Director Peter Hyams has an interesting IMDB list, working on films like Capricorn One, The Star Chamber, 2010, Outland, Running Scared, The Presidio, Stay Tuned and Timecop before this one. He’d go on to make The Relic — a film I was asked to quiet down during my laugh-filled viewing of it at Mann’s Chinese Theater — and End of Days. He elevates this above it being just another Die Hard clone.
You know who else does? Powers Boothe. He’s one of the best bad guys ever here. And to top it all off, he read the audio book of the film. This is the holy grail here in Pittsburgh, a valuable artifact worth its weight in pierogies.
BONUS: Listen to Becca and I discuss Sudden Death on our podcast: