Saturday, December 8, 2012

Stubs – Die Hard

Die Hard (1988) Starring: Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman, Alexander Gudonov, Bonnie Bedelia. Directed by John McTiernan. Screenplay by Steve E. de Souza and Jeb Stuart. Based on the novel. Nothing Lasts Forever Produced by Lawrence Gordon, Joel Silver. Executive Producer: Charles Gordon. Run Time: 131 minutes. U.S.  Color.  Action.

As everyone’s thoughts turn to the holidays, it’s good to look back on the old classics that have come to mean so much to so many of us. This holiday season, Trophy Unlocked is going to concentrate on one actor who has made as many films centered around Christmas as Jimmy Stewart: Bruce Willis. Welcome to the first and only installment of A BRUCE WILLIS CHRISTMAS. 

For the next three weeks, we’ll be watching three films that show Christmas would not be the same without Die Hard, Die Hard 2: Die Harder or RED . While none of these have the same Christmas spirit as say It’s A Wonderful Life or A Christmas Story, the holiday is a setting for all three films. And while it might be a little unorthodox, they are all fun movies, so sit back and try not to worry about it too much.

Back in 1988, Bruce Willis was best known as David Addison, Jr. opposite Cybil Shepherd’s Maddie Hayes on TV’s popular, but bumpy Moonlighting. He had appeared in Blake Edwards Blind Date (1987) opposite Kim Basinger and John Larroquette and the same director’s Sunset (1988). But he didn’t reach star status until Die Hard. The role of John McClane is one that Willis has returned to four more times. Die Hard 2: Die Harder (1990), Die Hard With a Vengeance (1995), Live Free or Die Hard (2007) and the upcoming A Good Day to Die Hard coming Valentine’s Day 2013. Throughout his career, Willis has shown himself to be a solid actor.

It’s easy to see why Willis keeps coming back to the role, even when he might seem past the age of most action heroes, though The Expendables (2010) and The Expendables 2 (2012) has pushed that age out by several decades. Die Hard is both a cash cow for all concerned and it is a part that Willis seemed destined to play. It takes his comedic timing, showcased on Moonlighting and combines it with his affinity for action. While the franchise may have dipped a little over time, Live Free or Die Hard showed that there is still fire in his belly and quick wit on the tip of his tongue.

But it all starts back on a Los Angeles Christmas Eve. McClane, a New York policeman, has flown into town to spend the holiday with his estranged wife Holly Gennaro-McClane (Bonnie Bedelia) and his largely unseen children. John is picked up by Argyle (DeVoreaux White), a limo driver sent by Joseph Yoshimodo Takagi (James Shigeta), Holly’s boss at Nakatomi. John arrives with the company’s Christmas party in full swing (What company has its Christmas party on Christmas Eve?).

But right behind him are a truckload of terrorists, led by Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman). Amongst his strong men are Karl (Alexander Godunov) and Theo (Clarence Gilyard), the computer genius. While John has his shoes off, Hans’ crew invade the party. John manages to escape and spends the rest of the movie playing cat and mouse with Hans and doing his best to mess up his plans. When Takagi won’t give up his passwords, he’s killed, no questions asked. Theo will just have to try harder to break the locks on the Nakatomi safe.

John tries to get the police involved by setting off the fire alarm, but the terrorists call in a retraction and the fire trucks make a u-turn. Hans sends Tony (Andreas Wisniewski), Karl’s brother, to find John. But instead John kills Tony in a fist fight. John takes his machine gun and radio, the latter which he uses to call the police. But in what is the beginning of a series of police errors and mistakes, dispatch doesn’t believe him. When he refuses to get off the air and there are gunshots, the police send a black and white, Sgt. Al Powell (Reginald VelJohnson) to check. After only a cursory look, Al starts to leave, but John kills two more terrorists, Heinrich (Gary Roberts) and Marco (Lorenzo Cacciatanza), and throws one down on top of Al’s car.

Al gets the hint and calls for back up and soon the streets of Century City are full of police cars. Dwayne T. Robinson (Paul Gleason), the Deputy Chief of Police, takes charge and starts to make a mess of things. SWAT attempts an assault, but the terrorists can see them coming and, using anti-tank missiles, obliterate the tank they’re driving and the crew inside. McClane attempts to get some revenge by killing two more terrorists, James (Wilhelm von Hornburg) and Alexander (Joey Piewa), with C-4 he’d taken off of Heinrich.

Harry Ellis (Hart Bochner), a wise-ass company executive, tries to negotiate John’s surrender for Hans. Luckily for McClane, Ellis never says how he knows John, which is barely. But Hans, believing Ellis is an old friend, kills him. Next, Hans sends Karl to get John while he goes upstairs to check on the explosives attached to the roof. John gets curious about what Fritz was doing on the roof and goes up to investigate himself. Hans and John meet for the first and only time. Hans pretends to be a scared Nakatomi employee, Bill Clay, a name he pulls off the directory (that happens to be on the top floor?). While Hans thinks John has played into his hand by giving him a handgun, John has seen through his disguise and given him an empty gun.

But Karl, Fritz (Hans Buhringer) and Franco (Bruno Doyon) arrive on the scene and while John kills Fritz and Franco, he is forced to flee. Hans and Karl chase him into a glass enclosed office. While John proves elusive, Hans suggests they shoot out the glass, trying to trap our barefooted hero. But John escapes, leaving a bloody trail behind him and the detonators which fall back into Hans’ possession.

The police keep making stupid mistakes until the FBI arrives in the form of two idiotic agents, Johnson (Robert Davi) and Johnson (Grand L. Bush). Once there, the stupidity comes fast and often. First, Johnson and Johnson order the electricity to the building to be cut off. They think they’re taking the upper hand, but in reality, this is what Hans wanted. No power means the electro-magnetic lock on the vault is disarmed. The terrorists now have unfettered access to Nakatomi’s $640 million dollars of U.S. bearer bonds. This is not a terrorist act, despite the demands Hans makes to relieve his imprisoned brethren around the world. This is a robbery.

Gruber demands a helicopter and the FBI bring it, with Johnson and Johnson coming along. But Hans’ intention is to blow the roof with the hostages on it, allowing his gang to escape. But McClane knows the plan and tries to get the hostages off the roof. On the way, he runs into Karl, who wants to settle the score man to man. Even though Karl is bigger than John, McClane manages to wrap a convenient chain around Karl’s neck and hang him. He then rushes to the roof to get the hostages off. But Johnson and Johnson peg him as one of the terrorists and try to kill him.

Meanwhile, Richard Thornburg (Wiliam Atherton), a local newsman, oversteps himself and goes to Holly’s house and puts their children, Lucy and John Jr., on the air. Gruber, who has the TV on, sees Thornburg’s report and takes Holly as a hostage. Hans blows the roof, ironically saving John from the FBI agents, who presumably die when the explosion engulfs their helicopter. This sets up the final confrontation between McClane and Hans. McClane, down to only two bullets, makes them each count, taking out the last terrorist, Eddie (Dennis Hayden), before shooting Hans in the shoulder. Hans falls out the window, but grabs Holly by the arm and tries to pull her out with him. John pries Han’s grip off of Holly’s wrist and he falls to his death.

But while the ordeal seems to be over, Karl is not really dead and comes after John. Al, who had up until then been unable to shoot a gun after accidentally shooting a thirteen year-old armed with a toy gun, shoots Karl until he drops dead. Argyle, who has subdued a disguised Theo, preventing him from escaping, arrives and whisks John and Holly away to a Merry Christmas and a reunion. Do they reconcile? We’ll have to wait and find that out.

Watching this movie, I’m reminded just how long ago 1988 seems now. Back then a policeman could carry a gun on an airplane. You could smoke in public, and buy Hostess Twinkies at a convenience store. Illegal aliens were afraid of being reported to INS (the forerunner to ICE). There were no CDs or iPods, no cell phones. Back then terrorists didn’t have to be Islamic extremists. Japan, not China was our economic rival. Bruce Willis had hair. Essentially the world as we know it didn’t exist way back then.

Besides Willis, the cast features Alan Rickman as Hans Gruber, the villain behind the tower heist. Rickman is perhaps better known these days for playing Severus Snape in the eight Harry Potter films. He also has shown himself to be a versatile actor, playing comedy as Alexander Dane/Dr. Lazarus in the Star Trek send up, Galaxy Quest (1999). Here, he is cold and calculating and wonderfully evil.

Despite the heroics of her cinema-husband, Bonnie Bedelia gets to deliver what might be the most crowd-pleasing punch in the film, when she cold cocks Thornburg immediately after the ordeal and on live TV to boot. Bedelia doesn’t really have that much to do in the movie, except make a few side comments about her husband to the other captors. This is really Bruce Willis’ film.

However, this film seems to endure because John McClane is an everyman hero who fights against long odds to do the right thing. An appealing character who cracks wise and shoots to kill. Willis, who has gone on to appear in over 60 films, will always be remembered for his portrayal of John McClane and for that character’s catch phrase: Yippee Ki-yay Motherf@#!er. It’ll probably be his epitaph.

It should be obvious that this is not a Christmas film for children, but rather one for adults. But it is a fun diversion from the usual holiday fare.

While Die Hard seems to tie things up quite nicely, we had to know then that there would be a sequel. Come back next week for Die Hard 2: Die Harder and more Christmas cheer.

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

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