If VOD is where we must go to see rugged heroes run through solidly entertaining classical action formulas then I guess that’s what we’ll do. In FINAL SCORE, Dave Bautista (WRONG SIDE OF TOWN) proves that he can handily carry a wholly unoriginal vehicle that knows how to properly operate the machinery of the DIE-HARD-on-a-____ template. To be more specific, this time it’s the SUDDEN DEATH template – DIE-HARD-in-a-hockey-arena-but-in-a-soccer-stadium.
Bautista plays American ex-Marine Michael Knox, who comes to London to bring his teenage “niece” – actually the daughter of a war buddy whose death he blames himself for – to the soccer match. (Yes, he keeps not calling it football, but don’t worry, there’s a part where a guy gets punched out for that very offense.) Unfortunately Uncle Mike and Danni (Lara Peake, HOW TO TALK TO GIRLS AT PARTIES)’s outing coincides with a plot by separatists from the ex-Soviet nation of Sukovia (on the eastern border of Sokovia, I believe) trying to find a former rebel leader in hiding and then blow up the stadium.
The bad versions of this type of movie have boring villains of indistinct European descent and dull, interchangeable henchmen. This one has my favorite Punisher, Ray Stevenson as Arkady, and his top guy Vlad is Martyn Ford, the tattooed giant from BOYKA: UNDISPUTED IV and ACCIDENT MAN. Much like characters in DIE HARD WITH A VENGEANCE and BLADE II, he has a girlfriend on the team, a scar-faced, corn-rowed little monster named Tatiana (Alexandra Dinu, BULLET HEAD) who keeps stealing the movie. And Arkady’s remorseful brother who fakes his death, Dimitri, is Pierce Brosnan (THE LAWNMOWER MAN). He spends much of the movie just watching the match, but when he’s outed and becomes Mike’s hostage and/or accomplice his quiet, knowing squints are very effective.
The bad version of this would also have too polished of an actress to play the niece. Either a generic child actor grown in a test tube or a grown up white bread model who does a little kung fu. This has a more grounded kid, slightly tomboyish, a little rebellious (sneaking out with a douchey boyfriend [Rion Gordon]) but without hair dye or ink or piercing or some shit to visually signify it. Kind of a Lady Sovereign with braces.
When Danni ditches Mike for her boyfriend, Mike tries to get help from an usher named Faisal (Amit Shah, THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEY), who gets dragged into the counterterrorism plot. His knowledge of the stadium becomes useful, but he’s mostly there for comic relief, including a dark and depressing joke where he can’t get a crowd to evacuate the stands until he acquiesces to the reality of racist fear and yells “Allahu akbar!”
Director Scott Mann’s last movie was HEIST, which had a great cast including Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Robert De Niro, Gina Carano and Bautista, but was un-exciting enough to me that I didn’t bother to review it. His debut, however, is a fun one called THE TOURNAMENT, which features a cartoonish subculture of elite assassins pre-JOHN WICK and Scott Adkins playing Russian but not Boyka. The screenplay for FINAL SCORE is credited to THE TOURNAMENT writer Jonathan Frank along with two brothers, David T. Lynch & Keith Lynch.
I found FINAL SCORE to be more entertaining and less insulting than the last DIE HARD inspired movie I saw, SKYSCRAPER. But to be fair the expectations of a V.O.D. movie at home may be easier to satisfy than those of the big screen, especially when the one at home gets to be rated-R and the “real” one doesn’t. I would gladly pay to see straight ahead Bautista vehicles like this in the theater, but you would want this to have a slightly bigger budget.
An enormous amount of suspension of disbelief is required about stadium security protocols and the ability of a crowd of 35,000 to notice gunfire or motorcycle stunts. Or you have to assume that everyone notices but is too invested in the game to get worked up about it. There appear to be astoundingly few security personnel and nobody getting upset that the doors have been blocked so that they can’t leave. But there are quite a few satisfying action moments, with the motorcycle chase through the halls and on the roof especially being fun (even with its obvious green screen). As a wrestler as opposed to martial artist, Bautista is not generally involved in complex choreography, but the action is frequent and varied, with at times shaky but generally comprehensible camera work.
That might not be enough if there wasn’t a strong presence at the center of it all. But once again Bautista provides that winning combo of badassedness and good-hearted sincerity. He’s very convincing as a guy who can crush your skull with his hands but would never do it to most people because he’s a total sweetheart.
An action star like this is mostly playing a type – we want to see as similar characters over and over, he’s not required to reinvent himself, at least not for a while. I think one reason Bautista is so good at it is that he seems to be similar to his screen persona in real life – a scary looking dude who is humble, able to laugh at himself, values being nice to people, but also has a low tolerance for bullshit or for playing the game how he’s probly supposed to. So he’ll be blunt about how the current political situation angers him even though he came from the very conservative world of pro wrestling. He’ll be the first and most frequent to speak out about the orchestrated firing of James Gunn even though it risks what could be the biggest movie role he’ll ever have. And he’ll proudly call FINAL SCORE “good old fashioned far fetched action” in a promotional tweet because he understands what this is and that we do too.
Drax in the GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY movies is an exaggerated outer space version of those qualities, but the Earth version is very appealing too. Here’s hoping we’ll see plenty more of it, on whatever size screen can hold it.