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Die Hard 2: Die Harder (1990)

by on 2011/12/26

“Why does this keep happening to us?”

* * *

New York City cop John McClane (Bruce Willis of Sin City), now relocated to Los Angeles, visits the Dulles International Airport in Washington DC, in a car from Virginia. This thriller itself moves around near as much, and covers too expansive an area, but it travels fast and is pretty good fun while it lasts.

Meeting his wife’s incoming flight, he notices odd goings-on: news coverage of a drug dealer, the suspicious exchange of boxes, and a porcelain weapon on a suspected luggage thief . . . a thief whose records show he officially died two years earlier.

To paraphrase Home Alone 2, another Christmas in the anti-terror trenches.

Before he can puzzle together these pieces, the flight tower loses command of its lights and radios, a winter storm moves in, and over a dozen planes bide their time, slowly running out of fuel. McClane’s early awareness notwithstanding, skip ahead if you’ve heard this story already…

  • A team of terrorists control a local building and reroute their target’s controls.
  • The local law enforcement is more hindrance than help.
  • Two low-level friendlies assist him: an insider, and an underground eccentric.
  • Reginald Veljohnson makes a cameo appearance as Al Powell.
  • The feds send in specialists who are even more trouble than the cops.
  • Dick Thornburg (William Atherton) crafts an expose without regard for its victims.
  • Wife Holly (Bonnie Bedelia) sits out the action amongst the hostages.

What differentiated this entry from its predecessor was a sense of trying too hard. As if buckling under the pressure of outdoing the original Die Hard, the dialogue, violence, and other quirks distracted from the true thrills of plot and character with the false ones of decoration.

Why are so many of the people swearing, and why do they swear so much? In 1988, when McClane was being coarse, it distinguished him from his foes. The inversion was startling and clever, crafting an anti-hero underdog. Wasn’t Alan Rickman’s Hans Gruber chilling in his refusal to dumb himself down? And didn’t it make him comparatively scary when he finally snapped? Now, everybody’s in on the vulgarity. As we learn in The Incredibles, however, when everything is “special”, nothing is.

Similarly, the violence is too over the top in the sequel. Where we felt a painful empathy for our hero’s injured feet, here I felt vaguely assaulted by the attacks. In one particular scene, a character’s throat is slashed, and the camera lingers on him as he lolls his way toward death. An eye socket stabbing “enjoys” a similar deliberation, as does a scene when a villain is crushed in a roller, headfirst, and another run through a turbine.

The movie is just as fetishistic with the high-tech of its era, to such an extent it’s dated itself too soon. Nothing about the rest of it was as quaint as its “newest” baubles: a pager, in-flight telephones, fax machines, and portable recorders. Too much time is spent lingering and commenting on their tools without the benefit of hindsight. “Wake up and smell the Nineties,” admonishes one wag. “Isn’t technology wonderful?” gushes another. Both now seem completely out of touch. Contrast this treatment with the approach featured in the more effective Solaris (2002).

Speaking of ineffective, I’m going to resist a critique of the effects, no doubt state of the art in their own day. I do feel compelled, however, to mention a minor detail which also bothered me in director Renny Harlin’s other Christmas thriller, The Long Kiss Goodnight. Why do the bad guys use grenades which take so long to explode? Those used against McClane took fully 22 — yes, twenty-two — seconds to blow. I know how long because I backed up and actually timed them . . . and no, it wasn’t a stylized slow motion sequence.

Was there anything I thought was exceptionally good? Only one: the familiar faces. This ensemble contained an inordinate number of recognizable character actors, including Robert Costanzo, Dennis Franz, John Leguizamo, Sheila McCarthy, Star Trek’s Colm Meaney, Django’s Franco Nero, a pre-Terminator 2 Robert Patrick, William Sadler, and several others.

Otherwise, the experience was occasionally fun, if spread thin and overlong. Peppered with excess self-consciousness and acting-out behaviours, Die Hard 2: Die Harder is a moderate holiday pastime, though it pales in every way to its forebear.

* * *

Rated 18A (Canada) / R (United States)

124 minutes

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