Monday, April 15, 2019

Final Score Is A Better Than Expected Take On The Die Hard Formula

There is a moment in the British action film Final Score where a reckless arrogant law enforcement officer refers to the sport of football as soccer only to be hit over the head by one of the non-Dave Bautista protagonists who staunchly informs him "It's called football!" It's one of the big crowdpleaser moments of Final Score that's clearly designed to elicit a big cheer from the audience. If that sounds too ridiculous to you, this isn't your movie. If you're like me and the mere concept of that moment sounded like a delight to you, right this way folks, Final Score is gonna be your cup of tea.

Like so many post-1988 action movies, Final Score is a Die Hard riff, with the twist on the Die Hard formula this go-around being that all of the action is confined to a soccer stadium instead of the White House or a bus with a bomb. The John McClane stand-in for Final Score is Michael Knox (Dave Bautista), a former soldier who has traveled to London to visit Danni (Lara Peake), the daughter of his now deceased best friend. Both of them are planning to spend an evening together just watching a football game, maybe eating some overly pricey hot dogs, but a terrorist named Arkady Belav (Ray Stevenson) has other plans. He wants to track down his brother, Dimitri, who is attending this football game and he's secretly taken down the security personnel at the stadium in order to achieve this goal.

With the cops mistakenly thinking everything is fine, it's now up to Michael, who has been separated from Danni, to take down Arkady and the various thugs backing him up. Happily, Final Score eschews throwing in too many extraneous storylines in favor of a lean plot that makes our villains and their motivations clear from the get-go and constantly keeps Michael Knox on the go in his pursuit of stopping Arkady and company. I also like how this one sets itself apart from many Die Hard knock-offs by having the villain's hostages not realize they're hostages. Everyone in the soccer stadium save for Michael and an employee at the stadium by the name of Faisal (Amit Shah) is still watching the football game unaware that there are bombs scattered underneath the stadium.

Michael having to try and thwart the bad guys while ensuring that the trapped stadium patrons are unaware of what's actually going on in order to avoid chaos is a solid way of generating extra suspense in a movie that has a few other clever tricks up its sleeve. One of these tricks involves making good use of its leading man, a former WWE wrestler who rocketed to stardom with his turn as Drax in the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies. Leaning heavily on the talents Dave Bautista is a great idea since he's actually a pretty good actor (remember how much haunting pain he brought to his brief Blade Runner 2049 performance?), a welcome contrast to the sort of bland leading men that can sometimes headline these Die Hard knock-off's.

Bautista can deliver corny dialogue in a manner that's fun rather than stilted while he's quite convincing taking down baddies during the numerous fight scenes. These sequences of Michael fighting adversaries show some creativity in how to constantly utilize the unique opportunities of setting a story in a soccer stadium, particularly a motorcycle chase set in the cramped hallways and various staircases found in the stadium. There's some really inventive choreography and camerawork in a number of these fight scenes, though some of them do suffer from some pieces of editing that cut between shots in too rapid of a manner for a viewer to fully understand what's going on.

Those instances of choppy editing do undercut some of the big spectacle sequences here while it's similarly disappointing that the villain, Arkady, doesn't have as much of a personality as some of his henchmen. Ray Stevenson's performance in the part is serviceable but neither his generic performance nor the writing can imbue the character with much in the way of personality. This leaves Final Score as a movie with instances of real inventiveness that also gets saddled with a run-of-the-mill baddie. Thankfully, it has enough in the way of creativity and fun, not to mention a consistently delightful Dave Bautista performance, to make it a plenty entertaining soccer, er, football, themed take on the Die Hard formula.

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