Die Hard (1988) remains an action classic for multiple reasons, but a key element in its success is how it drops a “regular” guy (or gal,where my Flightplan peeps at?!) directly into the middle of a shit-storm. Outnumbered, out-gunned, and beat to hell by the end credits, our hero is an underdog we’re instantly cheering for. It’s a fantastic formula, and while all but one of the Die Hard sequels forgot how to do it right numerous knock-offs have delighted action fans in the three decades since. Think Toy Soldiers (1991), Under Siege (1992), or White House Down (2013) as solidly entertaining examples. And now, on an admittedly smaller budget, you can add Final Score to the list of fun “Die Hard on/at/in a…” movies.
Uncle Mike (Dave Bautista) isn’t a blood relative to teenaged Danni (Lara Peake), but her father was among his squad members who died on a military mission in Afghanistan. The two soldiers were like brothers, and now Mike checks in on the dead man’s family when he visits London. His latest surprise visit comes with a pair of tickets for a big soccer/football match that evening, and while she’s grounded for her bad taste in boys Danni is given reluctant permission by her mom for the outing. Their timing couldn’t have been worse as a group of Russian rebels quickly take control of the stadium so renegade general Arkady (Ray Stevenson) can search for his supposedly dead brother Dimitri (Pierce Brosnan). No one but Mike and the dead seem to notice, though, and when young Danni finds herself in the cross-hairs he’s forced to step up and stomp a major terrorist incident.
Final Score isn’t the first Die Hard riff to trade a high-rise building for a sporting arena — and if my tennis-themed script titled Game! Set! Terrorist Incident of an Unspecified Nature! ever gains traction it won’t be the last — but it is the first since Jean-Claude Van Damme skated across some bad guys’ faces in 1995’s Sudden Death. It’s unabashedly ridiculous despite its serious tone, and unlike the typical soccer/football match it features more than a few winning points.
Bautista is the main ingredient here, and he delivers both on the charm offensive and with sheer brute force. His dry comic delivery is well-suited for a rough and tumble “uncle” trying to do right by the family of a man who thinks he failed, and it’s great fun seeing him banter flatly without blue makeup covering his face. Unsurprisingly, he also kicks ass when it comes to kicking ass. Starting with an early brawl in the world’s smallest elevator — or at least it looks tiny with Bautista and two other men inside — that gets real fierce real quick, and continuing on through an equally violent kitchen fight, Bautista shows he isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty. Poor uncle Mike is pummeled throughout the film and even has his face burned on a hot oven-top, and watching an even bigger threat toss Bautista around like a doll is bewildering and thrilling. It ain’t pretty being a hero, and his struggle is exactly what superhero John McClane lost in those Die Hard sequels.
It’s not shy about recognizing its inspiration either as Mike drops a body off the roof to get police attention, he finds a comic relief sidekick who contributes in the end, and we even get a female version of Alexander Godunov’s angry, kick-boxing terrorist. Amit Shah does good work as sidekick Faisal whose efforts to save lives see him butting up against Middle Eastern “terrorist” stereotypes, and Peake is also a spunky delight who avoids the usual annoyance of “kid” characters in distress. Stevenson is clearly having fun chewing the scenery, and it was terribly nice of Brosnan to show up for his ten minutes of screen time.
Final Score is goofy fun that delivers some strong action beats alongside the silly ones — a motorbike chase through the stadium halls that lead to the roof is a highlight — and it’s hard not to have a good time with a movie that sets big moments to Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s propulsive “Two Tribes” song.