I just saw Die Hard With a Vengeance, and boy, I'm ready to kick some German terrorist ass.
Yessir, I've got it all planned out: the next time I stumble across a small army of international mercenaries led by an eccentric criminal genius, I'll know just what to do. First step: take off shirt. Second: remove shoes. Third: Get repeatedly beat up. Fourth, and most importantly: creep around dark corners waving a gun with my mouth open. Voila! America's shores are safe!
Silly, perhaps, but so much more exciting than the typical, everyday adventures I have to make do with: the harrowing battle to get the best possible parking space, my fearless resistance to the bloodthirsty armies of MCI salespeople, and of course, the potentially brain-damaging risk of spending more than five minutes to read the entire Sunday Knoxville News-Sentinel (including classifieds).
So it's no wonder that we, the suburban masses, turn to Bruce Willis' John McClane to fulfill our fantasies of heroic, dangerous adventure. He's not particularly smart, attractive or appealing. In fact, he's a regular jerk. But, somehow, he finds himself stuck saving the world from nefariously complex terrorist plots.
The appeal of the first Die Harda surprise hit if there ever was onerested in Willis' ability to look like he didn't know what the hell he was doing, but doing the right thing anyway. Contained within the parameters of a Los Angeles skyscraper, it provided some claustrophobic tension amid a few real surprises as McClane miraculously escaped from one deadly trap after another. Die Hard 2 (I wonder if Sears is getting any royalties off this?) repeated the formula to diminished effect, as did countless imitators.
So how does the third Die Hard rate on the cheap thrills meter? Pretty well, though it stretches the boundaries of believability to the breaking point. (Hmmm, Breaking Pointnot a bad title for a movie series about a burly movie critic with a bad attitude who's forced to battle but I digress.) Although Bruce Willis has been issuing Standard Media Quote #232, saying he "resisted" doing a sequel until he read this amazingly good script, Vengeance is nevertheless just a retread, albeit an amusing one.
The movie starts off with a genuinely unsettling reminder of the Oklahoma City tragedy: a sudden, purposeless explosion in a congested downtown business district. And, for a brief moment, you might think "Terrorism is brutal and horrifying!" But from there Vengeance goes straight to comic-book land where violence is simply good ol' fashioned fun.
This time, the German terrorist mastermind is Jeremy Irons, a superb actor who fails to bring the same degree of shading to the role as the excellent Alan Rickman did when he played the German terrorist mastermind. And this brings the cheap thrills quotient down a notch. Without an intriguing villain, the constant interplay between McClane and his tormentor gets predictable real fast. ("I'm comin' to get ya, Hans." "Ah, Mr. McClane, you're still alive." Etc., etc.)
Apparently, this terrorist is in fact the brother of the one McClane killed years ago, and he seeks revenge by threatening to blow up New York unless McClane follows his directives, delivered in over-the-phone riddles. (Wasn't this done before on an episode of Batman?) McClane is issued a reluctant partner in the form of Samuel L. Jackson, a Harlem electrician who is forced to save McClane from being killed in one of the terrorist's pranks. Jackson actually provides more tension-filled discourse with Willis than Irons does, giving Vengeance a racial subtext (!).
But heywe're here to see things go boom, and Vengeance delivers on that score. Explosions abound as McClane gets beaten up in every conceivable manner, though he still manages to kill the villains, which is all we can really ask of a third sequel. But these action set pieces get so progressively silly, it's hard to really get worked up anymore. When McClane flies out of a sewer pipe atop a geyser of water at the exact same moment as Jackson drives by, are we supposed to be excited by this or amused by the screenwriter's audacity? How about neither?
Die Hard With a Vengeance is just the beginning of the summer blood bath, and not a bad one. Soon we'll have Judge Dredd, Batman Forever, Under Siege 2, Species, Fair Game, and Mortal Kombat more retreads, one and all. Now, if they had stuck Bruce Willis in Free Willy 2: Die Lard, we'd have had something different.