We've already seen several Die Hard knock-offs produced in the thirty years since John McTiernan's '88 action movie all-timer. Hell, even Die Harder – despite being one of the best sequels of all time – feels like it's essentially cashing in on the name by going so BIG with its convoluted plot (revolving around terrorists taking down Dulles airport) and massive set pieces, that it plays like borderline parody. Many of these "McClanesploitation" entries were bad (here's looking at you, Dwayne Johnson and Skyscraper). Though occasionally, they'd remold the formula of an average man getting caught in the middle of a terrorist plot into a wholly diverting slice of shoot/smash 'em up cinema. Jean-Claude Van Damme's Sudden Death is possibly the very best example, as the Muscles From Brussels is cast as a low level security guard at the Stanley Cup Finals, where a team of evildoers (led by a snarling Powers Boothe) try to stage an assassination before the hockey match's conclusion.
So, while it's probably easy to just label Dave Bautista's Final Score "Die Hard at a soccer game", the more accurate movie shorthand would probably be: "Drax the Destroyer's Sudden Death." Only instead of playing a security guard, Bautista is Michael Knox, a career military man, whose best British buddy was killed in combat under his watch. Riddled with guilt, Knox frequently returns – this current trip being his sixteenth – back to England in order to look after his fallen comrade's bartender widow Rachel (Lucy Gaskell) and rebellious daughter Danni (Lara Peake). Unfortunately, as a treat for the spunky, boy-crazy girl, Knox bought tickets to the wrong West Hampton United game, as it's about to be infiltrated by Russian terrorists, headed by consummate professional Arkady (Ray Stevenson). Their mission? To seek out a rogue element of their own (played by a bearded Pierce Brosnan), and if he isn't produced by the cops, crowd, or viewers at home, they've laced the stadium with enough C4 to keep the bodies buried for months after the blast.
If you've seen one of these riffs, then you know that they're a true test of the old adage "it's not what the story's about, but how it's told.” Screenwriter Jonathan Frank – along with co-scribes Frank Keith and David Lynch (no, not that one) – surrounds Bautista's weary but bulbous soldier (there are many "Hulk" jokes made at his expense) with an array of colorful supporting characters, including a foppish usher (Amit Shah) who becomes Knox's comedic aid in trying to locate Danni amidst the chaos. Equally important to our enjoyment of this rather brutal romp are Arkady's henchmen, who are gifted unique personalities beyond being mere black-clad thugs. The supernaturally gigantic Vlad (Boyka: Undisputed IV's Martyn Ford) and his corn-rowed mistress Tatiana (Alexandra Dinu) are a pair of psycho lovers from Hell; the DTV mayhem equivalent of Simon and Katya from Die Hard With a Vengeance, only grimier.
Casting Dave Bautista as your John McClane stand-in is a risky proposition, mostly because he's nowhere near being an "everyman" (though, you could argue that the original, barefoot iteration of McClane perished once the credits on Vengeance rolled*). However, the former wrestling champ and current Guardians of the Galaxy rebel brings a rather believable blue-collar big lug aura to the grieving hero. Whether he's grumbling about hating soccer or attempting to help Danni work through her own emotions regarding her dad's death, Bautista owns genuine warmth and grace that acts as a convincing counterbalance to him beating the holy hell out of goons in elevators and the stadium's massive kitchen. In short, Bautista's Michael Knox may not be McClane, but he possesses all the pathos necessary for us to buy into his battle with these nefarious elements, and truly give a shit that "Uncle Mike" and his "niece" make it out of this terrifying scenario in one piece.
However, none of these character details would matter if the action weren't any good – which is, let's face it, the main reason we sign up to watch these silly things – and director Scott Mann (Heist) brings it with both close quarters combat and a stunning motorcycle chase through the stadium's concrete corridors (that ends on its roof!). Whenever Bautista is required to throw down with his adversaries, the fights are brutal and bruising, with fingers being cut off and faces being smashed onto piping hot grills. Mann's movie definitely shows its seams in some of the green screened stadium SFX, but once he gets down and dirty with the violence, Final Score delivers everything you could want out of a DTV Dave Bautista vehicle. So, while you're probably a touch distrustful of another Die Hard clone, do know that this is one of the most solid entries into the “McClanesploitation” subgenre that's been not so quietly amassed within action cinema during the past three decades.
*As the McClane in Live Free or Die Hard and A Good Day To Die Hard is practically superhuman compared to Bruce Willis' original take.
Final Score is in select theaters and on VOD now.