Dave Bautista would have quite comfortable in the action movie golden age of the 1980s. Don’t think so? There’s proof positive in Scott Mann’s Mctiernan-esque Final Score, a total popcorn flick of the Bruce Willis or Van Damme variety that is pretty damned awesome despite all appearances to the contrary. The reason is largely because of Bautista, who can emote like crazy for such a big, intimidating dude. While he looks like a mack truck he’s got loads of personality to spare, and every bit of it is put to good use to keep this from being just another lame Die Hard knockoff.
I’ve been impressed by Bautista as a credible action star before, most recently in the underrated Bushwick where he played a brooding bruiser in the midst of a full-on invasion. However, he also showed considerable dramatic chops in Blade Runner 2049, and of course we know he’s damn funny in his role as Drax in Guardians of the Galaxy. If he manages to insult his way out of that franchise as he appears to be trying to do, Bautista will be just fine. He can survive perfectly well elevating genre flicks like Final Score beyond what we’re expecting.
Is the film totally cornball most of the time? Absolutely, and it starts right from the beginning with a news reel montage depicting some non-descript Russian conflict involving a dead revolutionary and his brother Arkady (Ray Stevenson), who takes up the mantle of leader. None of it really matters. All we need to know is that Stevenson will don a horribly thick and incomprehensible Russian accent throughout, and basically so will any character from the motherland. Bautista plays sullen, grieving soldier Michael Knox, who travels across the pond to visit his dead brother’s family. On the same night that he’s taking his stubborn niece Danni (Lara Peake) to a West Ham United football match, Arkady and his crew rig the stadium with explosive and threaten to blow it up.
Good thing Knox is a total American badass who doesn’t really give a crap about soccer. While everyone else in the crowd, including the security (!!!) are too distracted by the match, Knox sets out to pummel a bunch of russkies into borscht. The stakes are elevated by, what else, Danni’s capture and Knox’s need to find her. Hey, there won’t be any yellow cards for breaking the genre rules. Final Score is exactly the movie you expect it to be, and really, exactly what we want it to be. The violence is intense, with Bautista having one killer fight in a kitchen that involves boiling hot grease, and one Russian goon with shoulders so big he looks like a Rob Liefeld drawing come to life. Stevenson spends most of the movie barking garbled orders over a walkie-talkie, while Knox gets help and comic relief from Faisal (Amit Shah) a hilariously timid Pakistani security guard roped into the conflict.
I mention Faisal’s ethnicity only because it represents one of the film’s strokes of genius. Met with racial slurs simply for doing his job, Faisal puts his life on the line to save those very same bigoted people. It would have been easy to cast the Middle Eastern guy as the movie’s villain, for years Hollywood did that before Russians became chic again, or to have Faisal be an angry sidekick. But he isn’t, and works as a nice foil for the laconic Knox who does most of his talking with his fists. They make for quite a pair, and I like that they truly feel under threat at every moment. Knox may be tough but he’s hardly invincible; he’s battered black and blue by the end of this thing, and Faisal is always on the business end of somebody’s gun.
If you’re wondering about Pierce Brosnan, top billed right alongside Bautista…well, he’s in the movie, too. Buried under a big ol’ Santa beard that just looks absurd on him, Brosnan’s actual role is an enigma for far too long. He literally has nothing to do for the entire movie and has one major act to take in the very last minutes, so he might’ve had the lightest shoot of his career. Maybe he just wanted to say he was in a movie with both Drax and the Punisher?
Formulaic? Absolutely. Of course there’s a bomb set to go off right at the end of the match, so I guess we can say Arkady is nice enough to let everyone see who wins before blowing them up? Maybe he’s not such a bad guy.
I haven’t been tracking the marketing campaign for Final Score, but my hope is that Bautista didn’t spend the whole time getting asked about his beef with Disney. If so it would be a disservice to a rock solid flick that has a lot more life in it than Die Hard has had in years.