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‘Die Hard With a Vengeance’

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
May 19, 1995


John McTiernan
Bruce Willis;
Samuel L. Jackson;
Jeremy Irons;
Graham Greene;
Colleen Camp;
Larry Bryggman;
Sam Phillips
language, violence and one sexual situation

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Somewhere in the middle of the bombastic mush that is "Die Hard With a Vengeance," plucky policeman John McClane (Bruce Willis) compares himself to the Energizer Bunny. The analogy proves apt, not only because McClane keeps going, but because like the battery-operated spokes-hare he's a great idea that has started to wear out.

McClane's latest outing is not "Diehard Redux," but a formulaic buddy romp in which Willis and costar Samuel L. Jackson banter and bond between booms. There's nothing wrong with Jackson's post-"Pulp Fiction" buddy work—it's just that "Die Hard" movies are supposed to be one-man-against-impossible-odds, not the hero's chance to practice his social skills.

The story this time, which is well nigh indecipherable, isn't contained like the plots of the first two "Die Hard" installments. It spreads like an ash cloud all over the city of New York, a sprawl that is costly in terms of both tension and focus. McClane, who has been suspended from the force, returns to duty when a psychopathic bomber, Rhymin' Simon (buff, bottle-blond Jeremy Irons), threatens to blow up a public place unless McClane plays along with a series of silly games.

Simon, motivated by a need to avenge his bad brother's death in an earlier adventure, is foiled when McClane forms an unlikely alliance with Zeus Carver (Jackson), a Harlem electrician compelled to join the fun and games. He sets the pair a series of increasingly difficult tasks, eventually threatening to blow up a subway and then a grade school unless they manage to first reach and call him from far-away public phones.

A series of pulse-pounding chases and bumper-car crack-ups follows before they finally dwindle to a complicated heist that drains the film's accumulated momentum. This obliges Simon and his cronies (a bunch of freelance terrorists) to carry the middle of the movie while the heroes chase a red herring and the audience's interest wanes.

Irons—bad hair, smirk, German accent and all—looks more like a neurasthenic poet than a psychotic criminal mastermind, and never goes mano a mano with either of the good guys. The main fault lies with the script, which was ineptly adapted from a screenplay by Jonathan Hensleigh called "Simon Says." Director John McTiernan, who redefined the action genre in the original "Die Hard," does devise some smashing explosions, crashes and so on, but nothing really new. A subway car derailment scatters passengers across a platform like popping corn, but the scene isn't nearly so ingenious as a similar derailment in last year's "Speed."

Finally, there's the matter of bad timing. Explosions aren't so funny anymore.

Die Hard With a Vengeance is rated R for language, violence and one sexual situation.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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