Die Hard With a Vengeance

Tucson Weekly

DIRECTED BY: John McTiernan

REVIEWED: 05-25-95

NOTE TO READERS: The latest Die Hard sequel uses a "Simon Says" gimmick, so that's how this review will be written.

Okay, Simon Says Die Hard With A Vengeance is the best evidence yet that summer has truly arrived. The movie boasts twice the action at one-half the script plausibility, amazing stuntwork alongside amazingly silly dialogue (witness Bruce Willis after his car flips over, making an unlikely crack about triple-A cards), and villains who start off incredibly intelligent then flub everything with moronic oversights.

But who's complaining? After all, it's summer, and the sheer pleasure of sitting in an air-conditioned environment instead of getting first-degree burns from seat-belt buckles ought to be enough to warrant putting your critical faculties on hold for a couple of hours. It doesn't really matter how stupid a summer movie is--as long as it has lots of big stunts and looks expensive, what the heck.

(I didn't say Simon Says.)

Simon Says this third Die Hard installment is still plenty of fun. The story takes place in New York City, where detective John McClane (Willis) has been called upon by a mad bomber named "Simon" (Jeremy Irons) to perform a series of absurd tasks. He's under a lot of pressure: If he fails, he's told, innocent lives will perish in massive explosions. (The scenario calls to mind recent news events, but the accompanying queasy feeling goes away soon after the action scenes kick in.) Like the earlier Die Hard pictures, the joy of the movie comes from the way the premise forces the hero to adapt to limited options and resources. And the director, John McTiernan, whisks us from one claustrophobic action setup to another with fierce gusto.

Simon Says the movie's scavenger-hunt gimmick works well as a way to maintain the series' restricted-action ethic, but there remain a few minor problems: (1) The first task, in which Willis must enter Harlem wearing a racist slogan, would surely get him killed, ruining the bomber's whole plan; (2) The second task, which involves a high-speed taxi ride and a subway crash, is unavoidably reminiscent of Speed, adding a slight "seen it before" feel to the proceedings; (3) The villain's grand scheme has been unceremoniously stolen from the plot to Goldfinger; (4) The final 20 minutes of the movie dispenses with its gimmick and deteriorates into an idiotic showdown in which Willis defeats a machine-gunner by virtue of the fact that the gunman miraculously stops shooting whenever Willis is out in the open.

Fortunately, Willis once again charms the audience into overlooking such blemishes with his trademark squint-'n'-smirk expressions and lovably breathy one-liners. He's an Everyman hero for our age, a much-needed antidote to Stallone and Schwarzenegger, whose towering images don't exactly breed audience identification. That's why Willis is special: he has a blue-collar, working-man appeal. With that bloody undershirt and sweaty, balding appearance, you might think he'd just finished cooking a big pot of spaghetti for eight kids. But no, he's saved the world. Now that's an action hero.

(I didn't say Simon Says.)

Simon Says Die Hard With A Vengeance does manage to maintain a spark of personality by including Samuel Jackson, a bystander who gets caught up in Willis' puzzle-solving, in the mix. Jackson, one of Hollywood's finest black actors, shines as a reverse-racist whose antagonistic banter with Willis becomes far more entertaining than it deserves.

What's more, seeing Willis and Jackson together, cooperating to solve such brain-teasers as getting four gallons of water into a five gallon jug, reaffirms the values of melting-pot togetherness that have made this country great. Only by working side by side, the film demonstrates, will we be able to stop evil outsiders like Jeremy Irons and his gang of neo-Nazi Eastern Europeans, who mock us with their haughty, lispy voices and bombs made out of Super Soaker squirtgun tubes. As our hung-over, beer-soaked hero defeats dozens of well-groomed, thoroughly trained soldiers, Willis proves that international sophistication and meticulous planning are never any match for good old American guts, endurance and know-how. Yippee-ki-yay indeed.

--Zachary Woodruff

Capsule Reviews
Die Hard With a Vengeance

Other Films by John McTiernan
The Thirteenth Warrior
The Thomas Crown Affair

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