"Die Hard 2: Die Harder" zooms along like a roller coaster tanked with jet fuel. It's rambunctiously entertaining, a loop-de-loopy bumper car ride through a firecracker sky, all bright lights, sonic booms and impossible heroics.
Bruce Willis is John McClane, the capeless crusader in this time of muscularity and Batmobiles, an Everycop who saves the day without a robosuit, steroids or a really big gun. As in the 1988 "Die Hard," Willis's sturdy detective primarily outthinks a technologically superior force of evil geniuses. And he keeps his head while all those about him are losing theirs -- be they bureaucrats in a fog or bad guys squashed like melons.
Based on Walter Wager's novel "58 Minutes," the thriller begins when Dulles Airport (not really) is taken over by an elite mercenary group at Christmastime. Led by the fanatical Col. Stuart (William Sadler), the soldiers of fortune aim to block the extradition of a Latin American strongman for prosecution on drug charges. Though Dulles dispatches its own airport police and the Army a team of commandos, only McClane can penetrate the crafty plot.
The mercenaries strike as McClane waits for his wife, Holly (Bonnie Bedelia), to arrive on an inbound plane. In a swift and smooth operation, they take over the tower's communications, tell the controllers to stack the incoming traffic and promise a terrible retribution if they are interfered with in any way. Nastier than a flight attendant with bunions, they single out a British jet as an object lesson.
John McClane can't stand by while the airport police chief, tower control and the Army quibble over tactics. He does whatever it takes and whatever he can. Of course most of us would be spitting teeth from a punch that doesn't so much as bruise McClane. A friend of the little people, the hero ignores the big shots in the tower and takes up with the airport janitor, who knows his way through the underground maze that connects the terminal and runaways. It just takes a little common sense.
Though it has more holes than a cheese grater, the screenplay by Steven E. de Souza of "Die Hard" and Doug Richardson is persuasive braggadocio, a fast-churning, bloodthirsty canticle of mayhem. And Finnish import Renny Harlin's direction is breakneck excess that trades on both our fear of flying and our thrill in flying by the seats of our pants.
Mostly though, it's Willis's average-guyness that makes "Die Harder" work. Whether he's a wisecracking fetus, a smart-alecky moonlighter or the beleaguered John McClane, Willis is the boy next door with marbles in his pocket and frogs in a mayonnaise jar. He is Huck Finn by way of Han Solo.
"Die Harder" is not so easy to digest as its progenitor, which mostly took place in the air shafts of a skyscraper. Unlike so many self-defeating, same-soap sequels, this one retains the strengths of the original -- the homespun humor and ingenuity -- in an entirely different, less claustrophobic adventure. Packed with action from the first set-to in the baggage check to the last midair explosions, it's a bang-up recommendation for bus travel.
Die Hard 2: Die Harder, at area theaters, is rated R for excessive violence.