John McClane against terrorists at Dulles International in Washington DC. DIE HARD at an airport! That was the pitch. It sounded better on paper.
In DIE HARD 2, Bruce Willis returns in High Smug as New York cop John McClane, in Washington to meet his wife (Bonnie Bedelia) flying in. Why? Who cares? Writers Steven E. de Souza (DIE HARD) and Doug Richardson (his first feature, he would go on to BAD BOYS) seem to just throw cliché after cliché into this stunt-action-boy’s-movie and hope that director Renny Harlin keeps the shooting and explosions loud enough for us not to notice.
A terrorist leader, General Esperanza (Franco Nero), is landing at Dulles under heavy guard, to be transferred to American authorities. Esperanza’s military minions, led by Colonel Stuart (William Sadler in High Buff), take over the airport’s computer control system remotely to demand that Esperanza be handed over to them instead of authorities, also demanding a jumbo jet for their escape. While the airport authorities (led by Fred Thompson and his harried brow) fumfah over what to do, McClane is busy crawling through basements and elevators again throwing a spanner in the terrorists’ works.
The filmmakers are once again trying to isolate McClane and force him to be a lone unwilling hero, and we can understand he has to get to that place for the story to be compelling, however some of the plot points and reactions of the characters around McClane are idiotic. The lackluster directing and editing doesn’t help. Movie’s first scene loses our empathy as a beat cop tows McClane’s car, even though McClane identifies himself as a cop. What kind of cop does that to another cop? Later, there’s gunfire exchanged, McClane identifying specialized German guns on the bad guys, and again the cops (led by none other than Dennis Franz) refuse to shut down the area and investigate. And people wonder how 9-11 happened. (By the way, one-note Dennis Franz as an airport cop? All I can think of is Will Sasso’s impression on MAD TV.)
Silliness continues: McClane fights off bad guys in the conveyor belt room. He finds himself without a weapon – suddenly a golf bag goes by on the conveyor, complete with golf clubs all loosely hanging out of it. (Yeah, that’s exactly how people pack their golf clubs on planes, especially when they want John McClane to birdie a bad guy.) Later, a guy is running from McClane. McClane looks around and sees – a group of bicycles (none of them locked or packed or tagged in any way), one of which he steals to pursue the bad guy. I will stake my little cucumber booties there is nothing so contrived in the novel that inspired this story (Walter Wager’s 58 Minutes, 1987).
The terrorists force a plane to crash by recalibrating the ground level, so the pilots think the ground is 200 feet below where it really is. And not one fire truck or ambulance thinks to drive out onto the landing strip to signal the plane? Only McClane is out there like a battered lamb waving a burning torch. Yeah, we know he needs to be painted as the hero, but does everyone else need to be painted as dumbasses?!
McClane’s wife (Bonnie Bedelia) is on one of the circling planes – stakes up! Reporter from DIE HARD (William Atherton) also on that plane – plot convenience plus comic relief.
When McClane starts talking to himself, reminding us of DIE HARD, it’s pretty much over – and it’s only the second act: “I can’t believe this: another basement, another elevator; how can the same shit happen to the same guy twice?” It’s so unnatural and inauthentic, I expected someone to answer him from offscreen: “The box office, of course.”
Art Evans plays Barnes, a control tower supervisor who over-enunciates and over-emotes until even Fred Thompson tells him to dial it down to Yosemite Sam. Look carefully for Robert Patrick (the T-1000 from TERMINATOR 2, 1992) and John Leguizamo (ROMEO + JULIET 1996), both in one-liner terrorist roles. Sheila McCarthy plays the annoying reporter who redefines the word vapid. Sergeant Al (Reginald VelJohnson), the cop on the ground at Nakatomi Tower, makes a cameo specifically to raise the level of smug. John Amos is a SWAT guy who brings the GOOD TIMES.
In this movie, we see the first intimations of McClane’s distrust of technology, as he can’t even understand a fax machine; a distaste that will be highlighted in LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD (2007).
Shooting, explosions, a snowmobile chase, fisticuffs on the wing of a plane, and the Tom Cruise Stunt Award goes to the scene where McClane ejects out of a cockpit just ahead of all the exploding grenades in there (which took so long to explode he could have actually thrown them back out of the cockpit… but who’s paying attention by now anyway?…) At least they kept the R-Rating. Yippie ki-yay, motherfucker!