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