A Blue-Collar James Bond

How could the same s--happen to the same guy twice?" wonders the battered and bruised John McClane (Bruce Willis), and anybody who saw "Die Hard" laughs at the joke. The first Christmas it was the Nakatomi high-rise in Century City. This Christmas it's the airport in Washington, D.C. The L.A. cop is minding his own business, waiting for a plane carrying his wife (Bonnie Bedelia), when all hell breaks loose. It seems "the biggest drug dealer in the world," an evil Central American dictator (Franco Nero), is en route to Washington to stand trial, and a crack unit of terrorists led by Colonel Stuart (William Sadler) seizes control of the airport to facilitate the drug lord's escape. With a storm closing in and the airport's power and communication links taken over by the terrorists, everyone on all incoming flights is in deadly peril--including Mrs. McClane, who happens to be on the same plane as the craven TV journalist Thornberg (William Atherton), back for another round of abuse. Surrounded by bumbling cops and confused bureaucrats, the daredevil cop once again has to save the day. Die Hard 2 is offend running . . .

If "Die Hard," directed by John McTiernan, was the best adventure movie of 1988, this sequel, directed by Renny Harlin ("A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master"), may be the most profligately entertaining thrill machine of the summer. The "Die Hard" movies--and they could well turn into a series, Bruce Willis permitting--have many of the same virtues of the best of the James Bond movies: first-rate production values, an endless supply of escalating cliffhangers and a fine sense of their own preposterousness. Willis's McClane is a blue-collar Bond, blunter and more of a hothead, but always ready with a quip. And, of course, no less invincible.

The screenwriters, Steven E. de Souza and Doug Richardson, surround McClane with a more than serviceable set of foils, allies and antagonists. Dennis Franz is properly infuriating as a second-rate police captain jealously guarding his turf; lawyer/ actor Fred Dalton Thompson (who pops up in "Days of Thunder") is effortlessly authoritative as the good airport official; John Amos heads the antiterrorist unit called in to fight Colonel Stuart's men, and Atherton is once again supremely slimy, the newscaster's Uriah Heep.

Quality control: The original was arguably a touch more stylish than the sequel: McTiernan's action set pieces seem in retrospect more sleekly spectacular, and Jan De Bont's cinematography was crisper and more polished than Oliver Wood's (De Bont had a richer California light to play with). These quibbles aside, the quality control has been maintained. "Die Hard 2," like most of the big summer entertainments, is violent and intense, but this one doesn't wear out its welcome. The filmmakers know the audience is challenging them to top themselves, and they've risen to the bait. Harlin and company build suspense the old-fashioned way. They earn it.

Join the Discussion