FINAL SCORE: The DIE HARD Formula is Alive and Well [Blu Review]

Dave Bautista continues his march to stardom

It’s Die Hard in a soccer stadium and every single person involved with the creation of this film knows it. That’s a good thing; as that self-awareness leads to a highly entertaining riff on an oft-repeated classic that winds up landing Final Score among the very best Die Hard clones in recent memory.

Following the Die Hard template is no kind of guarantor for quality. It’s actually a challenging formula to get right. Die Hard doesn’t work because it is about a bunch of bad guys taking hostages in a high rise and a hero single-handedly taking them down. It works because that scenario plays out with a smart and snappy script and the character work from the actors endears you to everyone. The phenomenal direction, pacing, and action set pieces are icing on the cake and skyrocket Die Hard to the upper tiers of the action cinema pantheon.

I’m not here to tell you that Final Score is one of the greatest action films ever made. But it’s certainly one of the best of its ilk, and of this year. This is a situation where a film delivers literally everything it was promising you it would, sticking the landing, and asking “are you not entertained?”.

Dave Bautista plays former soldier and current private contractor Michael Knox. Knox has lost most of his closest friends in battle and has taken his best friend’s teenage daughter Danni (Lara Peake) under his wing as his niece. Convincing her mother to let him take Danni to a major soccer match in the UK, the situation quickly deteriorates as terrorists take over the stadium and threaten to blow it up. Smartly eschewing any middle eastern or Muslim villainy, we’re instead told of a past civil war in a fictional eastern european country that has echoes of the Bosnian civil war from the 1990s. The always excellent Ray Stevenson takes on the lead villain role here as Gen. Arkady, the fallen military leader of the civil war who has spent decades in prison after his own brother, the leader of the war, was killed.

Arkady and his loyal gang of former revolutionaries are a delicious bunch of villains given just enough dimensionality to make them memorable and formidable opponents to Knox. Ray Stevenson is a consummate performer who has impressed in role after role since I first discovered him in HBO’s Rome. He’s perhaps been a little bit forced to pick up roles in the action genre after his iconic turn as Frank Castle aka The Punisher in Punisher: War Zone, but he never slums it. Arkady feels competent, determined, and frightening. His determination is personal, as the cause for this soccer siege is the recent discovery that his brother was not, indeed, dead, but rather cut a deal with the British government to bring his stymied revolution to an end. Arkady, the true believer, wants his revenge on his brother, and wants the revolution to continue. Then you’ve got a classic villain pairing of “inhumanly large” henchman (recent action cinema standout Martyn Ford) and his equally badass villainess girlfriend (Alexandra Dinu) who make eyes at each other while they’re killing everyone in sight. They’re straight out of Die Hard 3, and that’s okay by me.

Bautista and Peake’s characters have a sweet and potty-mouthed rapport, with just enough backstory on what happened to Danni’s father to give these two a meaningful bond that propels Knox to do some pretty extreme things to save the day and get Danni out of this stadium alive. Bautista has long since proven himself as a compelling screen presence and character actor, but here he continues to make the case for himself as a full on leading man. He’s a giant bruiser, but he’s got charisma and character. At this point, Bautista is a star. Then, in the “Sgt. Al Powell” role of assisting Knox in his unlikely battle against the bad guys, British actor Amit Shah plays Faisal, an adequately humorous stadium security guard who rises to the occasion, cracking wise throughout. Add to this mix some cops and agents outside the stadium trying to manage and contain an international incident, and throw in a little Pierce Brosnan in a key/mysterious role, and you’ve got yourself a really entertaining cast of characters.

Director Scott Mann (The Tournament) and writers Jonathan Frank and The Brothers Lynch (David and Keith) also had an extremely unique and challenging opportunity with the setting of their Die Hard homage: a real live soccer stadium that was scheduled for demolition. As I watched Final Score I kept feeling like it looked like a million bucks. Sure the scale was not on par with Die Hard or a major studio film. But it also looks like a real movie, with production value beyond what I would have expected for a project like this in 2018. It turns out the production was able to film in the real stadium during the final few matches played there, and was also able to film on location for most of the action sequences and set pieces. Cliche though it might be, the stadium becomes its own character in the film. Set pieces are designed around the unique architecture and nooks and crannies of an aging footy stadium. And the film is stronger for it. Motorcycles speed through hallways lined by hotdog stands. Heroes and villains punch each other over the rails of the nosebleed seats, landing with thuds on the tier below. And in the absolute best case scenario, at one point someone gets their face deep fried in one of the stadium kitchens. The setting is crucial for Die Hard clones, and this takes full advantage of that situation in a hugely satisfying way.

It all builds up to some fairly grand spectacle with a finale that feels appropriately outsized. The characters follow their arcs to their natural conclusions. The set pieces land with strong direction and fist-pumping excitement. Dave Bautista seems to effortlessly get you rooting for him. None of it rises to the level of high art, but all of it works together to create a highly enjoyable action spectacle, which is all anyone is hoping for when they press play on Final Score.

The Package

Fortunately this is not a barebones release, and you get some behind the scenes material here, as well as a commentary track. The unique situation of the soccer stadium and its imminent demolition really adds a fascinating ticking clock to this film production and makes the bonus material on this release surprisingly thrilling and unique. Final Score is a very rewatchable film with some standout bonus material that more than justifies a recommendation that the curious pick up this Blu-ray release instead of simply renting the film on a VOD service. I predict Final Score will have a longer shelf life than lots of other action films as it will forever be placing on “best of” lists for Die Hard clones of note. Pull the trigger on Final Score. You’ll get everything you hoped for!

And I’m Out.

Final Score is available on Blu-ray/DVD/Digital Nov. 13th, 2018 from Lionsgate

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