John McClane had one thing going for him in Die Hard (1988): His everyman quality. As I pointed out in my review, we could picture him going to the supermarket with an armful of groceries, chatting up the cashier before peeling away in a Ford Fairmont. That’s what made him one of the better action heroes — he had a life outside his hero work. In Die Hard 2, he has graduated from Action Hero kindergarten and has moved right up to college. He no longer wishes to be at another place at another time; he’s perfectly happy to be in the now, fighting armed terrorists and incompetent police officers. He has become like all the others.
Die Hard 2 is a full-blown explosive adventure, confidently made and paced with zeal. Its director, a Finn named Renny Harlin, surely knows the emotional fibres and physical limitations of John McClane, and constructs the movie around him like a carnival ride that’s set to implode on a timer. Much of the action is precisely choreographed, and requires John to perform unimaginable feats, like leaping from a helicopter onto a plane speeding down the runway, or getting ejected from the cockpit of another plane seconds before grenades blow it to bits. All this would have been perfect for any other action movie, maybe one that had James Bond, but it doesn’t work for John McClane, not when the stunts upstage his charisma and make him look indestructible.
The plot, too, is loopy, but then most action movies aren’t planning on winning awards for Best Screenplay. If Die Hard 2’s plot can boast anything, it’s that it lays the groundwork for Air Force One (1997), a movie about a group of terrorists who hijacked the president’s plane in order to free an imprisoned general. Here, the terrorists are former US Special Forces agents, so they know their way around. They also have damaging knowledge about Dulles Airport’s security and electronic systems. Their goal is to rescue General Ramon Esperanza (Franco Nero), a big time drug lord from the country Val Verde (where is it again?), by shutting down all the airport’s radio channels and runway lights, stranding no less than 10 planes in the airspace above, most of which puff on fumes by the movie’s end. When Esperanza’s plane is set to approach, the control tower, under orders from the terrorists’ leader, Colonel Stuart (William Sadler), will direct it to an isolated hangar where a 747 will be waiting as their escape vessel. That’s right. A 747 jumbo jet. One would think that such a high profile operation would certainly attract the attention of the media — there is even a gung ho reporter who fleets around the airport searching for juicy stories — but our bad guys are so efficient that no TV station or criminal justice force will ever find a missing jumbo jet ferrying a classroom full of wanted men. Perhaps they thought a car would be too clichéd. They might have a case.
John (Bruce Willis), of course, is the unfortunate soul who finds himself trapped in this situation, which requires him to muster all his physical and mental prowess to overthrow Colonel Stuart and Esperanza. He’s at Dulles waiting for his wife Holly (Bonnie Bedelia) to arrive, but she’s stuck on one of the stranded planes. This gives John plenty opportunity to yell the words “My wife is up there!” whenever things aren’t moving quick enough. And even when things are moving quick enough, he accelerates a gear or two to take care of business himself.
This greatly maddens the airport’s chief of security, Captain Carmine Lorenzo (Dennis Franz), who fills the exact position left vacant by Paul Gleason in the previous picture. He’s a block-headed hard ass who despises interstate cops on his turf. At every conceivable moment, he is waiting to arrest John, despite John’s clearcut evidence that something sinister is afoot. He is joined by Richard Thornburg (William Atherton) as the second of two spectacularly unnecessary characters. Richard, as you recall, is the reporter who exposed Holly’s identity in the first film. Here, he finds himself on Holly’s plane; the two engage in awkward exchanges till the end and we are left with two characters with very few answers.
There are some good moments in Die Hard 2, moments that send the adrenaline pumping. A plane crash midway through, though certainly filmed as special effects, is visually horrifying. And most of John’s stunts qualify his doubles for increased life insurance. When Die Hard 2 shifts to action, it shifts very well. But this isn’t a movie for John. It’s a movie for Jason Bourne, or James Bond. John works best when the danger finds him, not when he finds it.
Best Moment | Can’t think of one.
Worst Moment | Most of the scenes involving Dennis Franz.