Friday, 18 November 2011

Movie Review: Die Hard 2 (1990)


A hyper-kinetic sequel, Die Hard 2 repeatedly pushes the bounds of reason, but delivers an immensely satisfying experience of non-stop high quality action.

It is Christmas time, two years after detective John McClane (Bruce Willis) battled terrorists in a Los Angeles high-rise. McClane's wife Holly (Bonnie Bedelia) is on a plane about to land at Dulles International Airport in Washington DC, and he is waiting to pick her up.

McClane's plans for a romantic night with Holly are about to be comprehensively disrupted: the renegade Colonel Stuart (William Sadler) is leading a group of die-hard mercenary terrorists on a mission to take control of the airport. Stuart deactivates the airport's control and communication systems, turns off the runway lights and sets up a parallel rogue traffic control centre, effectively commandeering the skies above Dulles airport and placing about 15 flights, including Holly's, in jeopardy. Stuart's mission is to free General Esperanza (Franco Nero), an extreme anti-communist foreign dictator, who is being extradited to the US and is about to land at Dulles.

McClane is quick to spot the unfolding plot, but gets no help from the airport's buffoonish police chief Captain Lorenzo (Dennis Franz) and has to single handedly try to disrupt the nefarious plan of Stuart and his heavily armed men. More helpful is Leslie Barnes (Art Evans), the airport communications director who tries to re-establish contact with the stranded planes. When the bullets start flying and the planes start crashing as predicted by McClane, Trudeau (Fred Thompson in his pre-politics days), the head of the airport, starts to listen, and eventually calls in an army anti-terrorism unit that proves to be suspiciously inept. With Holly's plane running out of fuel and about to attempt a blind landing, McClane forces a final confrontation with the terrorists to put an end to the siege.

Director Renny Harlin effectively uses the first 30 minutes to establish the context of Die Hard 2, but once he jams down on the accelerator, there is no brake pedal. The movie explodes into non-stop shoot-outs, killings, stunts, chases, destruction, crashes, and hand-to-hand combat, with any semblance of credibility lost in the airport parking lot. The breaks between action scenes are just enough to humanize McClane and allow him to lick his wounds before he goes out again in search of another way to win a battle in which he is out-numbered and out-gunned.

Not much of the plot stands up to any scrutiny, not least the question as to why the stranded flights did not immediately divert to other destinations on the airport-rich eastern seaboard. Die Hard 2 does not try to explain itself, it just barrel-rolls in a frenzy, delivering with professional efficiency too many thrills to care about incidentals like realism.

Bruce Willis plays along, a shadow of a smile dancing just behind eyes throughout, the "here we go again" subtext not really hidden: McCane makes several references to the Nakatomi Tower adventure, and is as bemused as the rest of us that such a grand and bloody misadventure can happen to the same cop twice. The large supporting cast is suitably animated. Franz, Evans and Thompson run around ineffectively on the ground, while Bedelia has to contend with a low-life journalist (William Atherton) on her flight. The bad guys are impressively humourless as they unleash their deadly mission with a minimum of justification for their devotion to Esperanza.

Die Hard 2 is wild fun, missing the originality and grittiness of the original, but compensating by inventing new definitions for over-the-top.






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