On some levels, Sudden Death is almost a parody of the tough-guy genre. Swaggering Robert Conrad stars as Duke Smith—yes, really—a former covert-ops guy now living out a casual retirement in the Philippines with his daughter and his girlfriend. When he gets roped into a case involving political intrigue, he steadily escalates from pummeling opponents to killing them, eventually leaving a huge trail of bodies in his wake. Through it all, he preens like a bodybuilder, showing off his taut physique in what can only be described as topless scenes, and he spews macho dialogue that might seem more at home in a blaxploitation flick. (Beyond unpersuasively barking the epithet “motherfucker,” he threatens a dude by saying, “Talk or I’m gonna spit in your face and kick you in the balls.”) Like some Chuck Norris or Sylvester Stallone movie from the ’80s, Sudden Death isn’t so much a narrative as an exercise in brand management, selling the idea that Conrad’s the baddest son of a bitch on the planet. With all due respect to his incredible athleticism (back in the day, Conrad was known for doing many of his own stunts), Conrad is a relatively small man, measuring just five feet and eight inches, so watching him strut around this way has the unavoidable air of overcompensation. The spectacle is weirdly fascinating to watch. So, too, is Sudden Death.
Although the picture was made by the same folks responsible for many sketchy Filipino coproductions of the era, notably director Eddie Romero and costar/producer John Ashley, Sudden Death is markedly slicker than other flicks with similar origins. The camerawork is austere and confident, the dialogue is terse and periodically amusing (think Walter Hill Lite), and the methodical escalation of brutality provides a brisk pace. That said, Sudden Death suffers from a hopelessly trivial storyline about the machinations of an opportunistic corporation. The picture gets an energy boost during its second half, with the introduction of hired gun Dominic Aldo (Don Stroud). Since he’s a former acquaintance of Duke’s, Aldo is basically the same character without a conscience, so the film builds toward their duel at the end. The showdown a brief but vicious battle, concluding with a horrific demise. Sudden Death then goes even further down the nihilistic rabbit hole with one of the most pointlessly grim final scenes you’ll ever encounter in an action movie. So in a trash-cinema sort of way, Sudden Death hits hard and leaves a mark.
Sudden Death: FUNKY