Saturday, December 15, 2012

Stubs – Die Hard 2




Die Hard 2 (1990) Starring: Bruce Willis, Bonnie Bedelia, William Atherton, Reginald VelJohnson. Directed by Renny Harlin. Screenplay by Steve E. de Souza and Doug Richardson. Based on the novel. 58 minutes by Walter Wager. Characters by Roderick Thorp. Produced by Charles Gordon, Lawrence Gordon, Joel Silver. Run Time: 124 minutes. U.S.  Color.  Action.

Our Bruce Willis Christmas celebration continues with the follow up to Die Hard, the aptly named Die Hard 2, sometimes referred to as Die Hard 2: Die Harder.

You can just imagine the conundrum Fox must have found itself in after the success of the original Die Hard in 1988. What to do next? Well apparently, you can take any story and find its internal John McClane. Hence, producers took an unrelated story, the novel 58 Minutes and repurposed it as a McClane adventure. As it turns out, it’s fortunate that they set this film around Christmas, because the plot is less believable than Santa Claus.

Colonel Stuart (William Sadler), a former Special Forces officer, takes over Dulles Airport in Washington D.C. to aide in the escape of General Ramon Esperanza (Franco Nero), who is being extricated to the U.S. to stand trial on charges of distributing cocaine. Our hero, John McClane now with the LAPD, just happens to be at Dulles waiting for his wife Holly’s (Bonnie Bedelia) plane to arrive from Los Angeles. When Stuart shuts down the airport, her flight is one of those endangered.

McClane has to fight with airport police Captain Carmine Lorenzo (Dennis Franz) for action when he becomes aware of a mischievous plot. While Trudeau (Fred Dalton Thompson), Chief of Dulles’ operations, is concerned, he still treats McClane like an outsider, a civilian. The only people McClane can get to help him are Marvin (Tom Bower), the battle scared janitor, and Leslie Barnes (Art Evans), Dulles’ director of communications.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon sends one platoon of Special Forces under the command of Major Grant (John Amos) to put an end to the terror. Grant is supposed to know Stuart, since he trained him. However, Grant and his platoon do a lot of sitting at the airport, while McClane seems to do all the work.

While the airport tries to keep a lid on the press, reporter Dick Thornburg (William Atherton) just happens to be on the same flight as Holly. You remember Thornburg from Die Hard, he’s the annoying reporter who outed McClane to Hans via TV news and the one whom Holly punched at the end. Well, in Die Hard 2 Thornburg’s sound man happens to be on the same flight and detects that the outer marker is not beeping, but broadcasting a message from Dulles to the planes in route about the terrorism going on. Thornburg gets on the news, via telephone hookup and of course, the story is broadcast over TV and causes panic not only on the ground, but on the plane, which is watching local TV to pass the time. Thornburg is only stopped when Holly uses a fellow passenger’s taser gun to knock him out. I guess they couldn’t simply disconnect the call or change channels on the plane.

Turns out that Grant and Stuart are in cahoots and all gather at the hangar where a converted 747 is waiting to whisk them all away to some tropical island. But John can’t let them get away. He convinces news reporter Samantha Coleman (Sheila McCarthy), who has been hanging around the airport all night sensing a story even before word broke about the terrorism, to use the station’s helicopter to land him on the wing of the plane that is taking its sweet time taxiing down the runway.

Once on the wing of the plane, McClane manages to stuff his jacket into one of the flaps preventing take off. And rather than pull over and check it out, Esperanza keeps taxiing the plane while first Grant and then Stuart go out on the wing to stop McClane. Grant gets turned into shredded general when he goes through the business end of one of the jet engines. Stuart manages to knock McClane off the wing, but not before John pulls the plug on one of the fuel tanks.

McClane lights the trail of gasoline which leads to the plane already in the sky and blows it up. The fire provides landing lights for the other jets which all land safely. And John and Holly are reunited on the frozen tarmac. 

While the original Die Hard had a somewhat complicated robbery plot, the sequel’s is rather pointless. If one airport gets shut down, planes just go somewhere else to land. They don’t fly around until they run out of fuel and fall from the sky. And there are plenty of airports in and around Washington D.C. and the east coast. The movie makes a reference to National (now Reagan) being iced over, but there are plenty of other choices, including Andrews Air Force base. It is never made clear why the other planes wouldn’t have diverted themselves to another airfield.

Also, the movie shows that Esperanza is easily able to commandeer the plane taking him to Dulles. Why not just fly to your final destination? Why involve U.S. Special Forces and mercenaries in your escape? And what a meager unit provided to escort Esperanza; one guard and two pilots and no U.S. personnel.

And while we all cheer McClane blowing up the plane in mid-flight, couldn’t the, I don’t know, Air Force let’s say, scramble a couple of jets to take it down? Oddly, involving more than one platoon of Special Forces is never really discussed. The film wants us to believe that if John doesn’t blow up the plane the bad guys will get away.

There is a high body count in the film, which includes the assassination of a church caretaker, two painters, a squad of airport SWAT personnel, dozens of terrorists and a plane load of British innocent passengers which is purposefully crashed by Stuart to let everyone know he’s serious. Somehow though McClane is bloodied but never shot throughout the gunfire.

The film is blatantly built around a series of high concept mindless action sequences. The first is the fight between McClane and two of Stuart’s men in an otherwise deserted luggage sorting area. (Are all the baggage claim workers on break? And I never realized there was so much steam involved with luggage.)  John kills one and the other gets away. John sends the fingerprints off the dead man to Sergeant Al Powell (Reginald VelJohnson), the Twinkie eating patrolman from Die Hard (we had to have a cameo to remind us of this film’s origin story), back in LA to run them. Turns out the man John killed had already been reported dead two years ago.

Next, when Barnes decides he can use an antenna array in the new terminal to signal the planes, he sets out with the airport’s SWAT team. And lo and behold this is an ambush. The painters working late into the night at an airport in lockdown happen to be members of Stuart’s squad (surprise, surprise). The SWAT team must have never heard of retreating and regrouping, because they pretty much just stand there and get killed. McClane, who comes through another ventilation shaft (remember when he did that in Die Hard?), saves Barnes and singlehandedly kills the remaining terrorists. But before Barnes can get to the antenna array, it is blown up remotely by Stuart. Why didn’t he just do that to start with? The film tells you that it was his way of getting rid of the SWAT team, which must be the only one around, since no other one is called to the airport. And I guess the loss of eight or so of Stuart’s troops is a small price to pay for taking on an inept foe.

When Esperanza lands his plane, McClane is the first one to meet him. But Stuart and his men close in and John takes shelter in the cockpit. When Stuart’s men throw in all of their grenades, John has time to get into the pilot’s seat and eject it before the grenades explode. How come the grenades don’t explode on impact or why no one shoots at the parachuting McClane, I’m not really sure.

And there is the big fake shoot out at the church Stuart has taken over to run his operation out of. When Grant’s men attack, there is a ferocious firefight in which nothing gets damaged and no one gets shot. The movie, which neatly broadcasts that the blue cartridges are blanks and the red ones real, doesn’t even have to do that for us to know this is fake. Stuart and his ever diminishing squadron escape on snow mobiles and live to fight, and die, another day.

The final action scene, which I think I’ve already discussed in detail is, of course, the best one as all the bad men get their come-uppance all at once. And we get to hear, once again, John McClane’s catch phrase, “Yippee Ki-yay Motherf®™©er”.

More than any other sequel I can remember, there is a real sense of doing things again with Die Hard 2. Even the dialogue makes reference several times to this is how McClane spent last Christmas and Holly remarks at the end “why does this keep happening to us?” And even though this is a mindless actioneer, the audience is also left with a feeling of “why did I let myself get taken in by this?”

This is the inherent problem with sequels. Unless you’ve mapped out the five or eight sequels in advance (yes, I’m talking to you George Lucas), or you’re doing a series of related books or comic books, the sequel can be a tricky thing. The first movie sort of neatly wrapped up John McClane’s adventure in Los Angeles. The ending didn’t necessarily lead us into this one, though we may have wanted to see more of him, we didn’t have an obvious avenue to pursue the wish. That is until Die Hard 2.

The sequel needs to stand on its own and without the good vibes we got from John McClane from the original I don’t think I would have seen 2. The plot holes are so large that you could, well, fly a plane through them

But this is Christmas, right? We’re supposed to forgive and forget the trespasses others have done to us. I guess I can forgive Renny Harlin for this trite and Bruce Willis for going for the money he must have made on this film. So we’re not turning our backs on John McClane or Bruce Willis. The rest of the Die Hard franchise may be fodder for future posts, especially with Die Hard 5 aka A Good Day to Die Hard coming soon, but next week (unless the world ends of course), we’ll take a look at our final Bruce Willis Christmas movie, RED.

Here’s hoping the Mayans didn’t know what they were talking about.

To read reviews of other Christmas films, please see our Christmas Review Hub.


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