Where There's a Willis

The script provides Willis's McClane no succor, and therefore no reason to care about anyone or anything. One of two situations must have occurred here. Either the filmmakers feared audiences wouldn't buy a scenario in which Holly McClane stumbles into mortal jeopardy yet again, thus forcing her estranged husband to rescue her for a third time, or they simply couldn't hammer out a contract with Bonnie Bedelia, the actress who played the disaster-prone Mrs. McClane. In either case, the movie could have used a seriously endangered love interest to up the ante for the listless lawman, and make his heroics more believable for the audience.

Instead we wind up with a pair of heroes, one white and one black, who put their lives on the line because of some internal code that tells them it's the right thing to do. Something is missing. Even the filmmakers sense this. They try to graft on a personal angle -- Simon claims to have booby-trapped the elementary school Zeus's sons (Hephaestus and Ares?) attend. But then they shoot themselves in the foot by revealing that the school bomb might be a harmless decoy, thereby negating any suspense that putting Zeus's kids at risk might have generated.

You have to wonder about an action movie that mutes its own thrills. In one scene Willis and Jackson race through Central Park in a commandeered taxi to get to a pay telephone on the other side of town as quickly as possible. This relatively inconsequential scene goes on and on, the director never tiring of stock shots of unsuspecting pedestrians leaping out of the way as the cab barrels past. You keep expecting something really wild and unpredictable to happen, but nothing does. Finally, mercifully, the segment ends with the car cresting a hill and going airborne as Zeus and McClane let out the obligatory wide-mouthed "Ahhhhhhh!" scream. The sequence inexplicably stretches out a moment in the story that should have lasted a fraction as long. To make matters worse, the cab wasn't even being pursued. What fun is a chase scene without a chaser? The whole episode falls flat and pointless.

Speaking of flat and pointless, what were the filmmakers thinking when they decided on the obtrusive "Battle Hymn of the Republic" musical motif to score a montage of Simon's minions literally breaking the bank on Wall Street? And still speaking of flat and pointless, the film's biggest female role (played by singer-songwriter Sam Phillips) is that of a ruthless killer who doesn't even speak. What a great adolescent fantasy chick -- a swivel-hipped blond babe who murders for you, sleeps with you when you want her to, and keeps her mouth shut the whole time. Let's call N.O.W. headquarters and see if they'll send over a few.

As Joe Pesci's character in Lethal Weapon 2 used to say, "okay, okay, okay." Enough carping. If you've borne with me this long, I owe it to you to give you the bottom line: Die Hard With a Vengeance succeeds as a passable thriller despite all its flaws. There's a spectacular special effect involving a subway car blown clean off its track that goes Speed's finale one better (the jolting blast-pileup combination calls to mind that famous line from the two redneck film reviewers played by Joe Flaherty and John Candy on SCTV, "They blowed it up real good!"), a couple of breathtaking stunts, and plenty of action and sarcastic banter to keep you from thinking too deeply about any of the nonsense you're watching. There's even a macabre bisected torso gag that makes you wonder whether Quentin Tarantino did any uncredited work on the screenplay for his old pals Willis and Jackson.

But this edition is by far the weakest link in the Die Hard chain. Like Willis's John McClane, the series appears to have lost its spark. The thrill is gone. If the producers have any sense, they'll retire the sharp-tongued flatfoot and let him move to L.A., where he can hang a shingle as a private detective while he tries to work things out with Holly, who is probably shacking up with some midlevel movie-biz honcho and doesn't want him back. Isn't that what usually happens to world-weary ex-cops?

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