Yippee-ki-yay motherhahaers, it’s Burl, here to review a Christmas classic! It’s Die Hard, an action picture which, when it was released two dozen years ago, was thought to be a new standard in express train-paced super-action! Today it seems stately and reserved, like Béla Tarr’s stab at an American shoot-‘em-up!
I don’t mind the slow burn, myself! It’s kind of nice that the movie doesn’t bother with some kind of opening action scene just because, like so many other pictures ever since James Bond made it mandatory! Instead it follows the arrival of the main character, New York cop John McClane, into LAX, and on his limo ride to Nakatomi Plaza, where the rest of the movie will take place! After twenty-five minutes of standard-issue set up and character development, helped a great deal by the younger Bruce Willis’s natural charms and thinning but still extant hair, the action elements of the movie finally begin, slowly, to reveal themselves!
An international gang of thieves shows up at the Nakatomi office building to steal some kind of paper negotiables, and it’s up to the barefoot Willis to save the day! His assets include a firearm, his incredibly patient limo driver, who is apparently content to spend Christmas Eve in a parking garage, a hefty cop played by none other than Reginald Vel Johnson from Wolfen, and the wife from whom he was recently separated for some contrived reason! There are long sequences of Willis sneaking around, and the thieves pretending to be terrorists, and head baddie Alan Rickman repeatedly demanding the return of his detonators! Ha ha, he really wants those detonators!
I can’t remember if the movie seemed as formula back then as it does today, but it sure feels machine-crafted when you watch it in the two thousand and teens! It came out at the tail end of the 1980s, so I’d say it was probably treading very well-trod territory! It does so with a fair amount of foursquare artisanship, I do have to admit!
But it’s got a real Screenwriting 101 whiff about it! There are lots of little callbacks, like the Rolex watch given to McClane’s wife by the corporate coke lizard played by Hart "The Wild Life" Bochner, and which is later unclasped so that the villain can fall to his doom! But the dumb watch takes three minutes to set up for a not very critical payoff – ha ha, screenwriter, not every accessory has to have its own backstory! It could have just been a watch!
And the character arcs can be pretty irritating! The movie stops dead for a few moments so the minor character Vel Johnson can tell his sob story about why he no longer likes to shoot people! Well, of course he gets over that disability by the end, which is unsavoury enough, but the movie forces him into it by having a character who is clearly dead – he’s been hanging by his neck from a chain for at least a half hour, ha ha – come back to life and roar a bit before Vel Johnson blasts him in a heartwarmingly redemptive manner! At least they made William Atherton into a genuine if pointless slimeball, unlike in Ghostbusters where he was an EPA man with an unctuous manner but perfectly valid complaints!
But remember, Die Hard is a Christmas movie, so it’s pretty fun to watch it around this time of the year despite its increasingly obvious flaws! And there are some fine bon mots, and of course some marvelous explosions and competent action thrills! I still haven’t seen the Die Hard picture they made recently, nor the one they made even more recently that’s about Russia, but the first three at least make a pretty solid troika of 80s-90s action spectaculars! I give the original Die Hard two fists with your toes!