CONGRATULATIONS to the makers of "Die Hard 2: Die Harder" for, if nothing else, the highest body count of the summer.
Can we thank those responsible by name? Twentieth Century Fox, producers Lawrence Gordon, Joel Silver and Charles Gordon, screenwriters Steven E. de Souza and Doug Richardson, director Renny Harlin and of course returning star Bruce Willis himself have resoundingly trounced their bloody competitors ("Total Recall," "RoboCop 2," etc.) on the strength of just one scene. It gives me enormous, civic-minded pleasure to give it away:
Arch villain Col. Stuart (William Sadler) and an elite right-wing unit have taken over the air-traffic control tower of "Dulles International Airport" (actually, a collection of L.A. soundstages) in order to intercept a Central American dictator (Franco Nero!) who's being extradited. Just to show the airport personnel he really means business, the colonel provides a commercial airliner with a purposely bogus flight path, so it crashes into the runway. More than 230 passengers are incinerated in a blinding, Hiroshima-like blast.
"That concludes our object lesson for this evening," he says.
It's one of the most brutal acts ever committed in the name of entertainment. And let's not forget the de rigor collection of Uzi-spattered deaths, as just-happened-to-be-there-again Willis takes on the bad master-race troops in the airport and the, uh, Washington blizzard outside.
Then there's the scene in which Willis rams a carrot-sized icicle into a villain's brain via his eye socket, and the time he bites someone's hand, then spits out a chunk of flesh. And how about that climactic fight on the wing of a ready-for-takeoff plane in which a certain bad guy is pureed through the jet engine?
Even though the original "Die Hard" was hardly the sensitive story of a boy and his dog, the violence was straight-ahead, no-nonsense, gruesomely delirious stuff. The human damage in "Die II" is calculated and sequel-like, a second-rate one-upping. "Die 2" has other Die Softer problems: Sadler's gaunt-cheeked terrorist-mastermind is a pale imitation of Alan Rickman's compulsive, high-IQ supervillain of the original. Army unit leader John Amos, air-traffic controller Fred Dalton Thompson and airport police captain Dennis Frantz (whose Brooklyn-accented character apparently relocated from New York to work here) are just familiar, supporting acts from other action movies. You'll be seeing them again as cops, hoods or lawyers.
As with most Hollywood sequels, the movie wastes its time with tiresome, perfunctory rematches: the bitter enmity between Willis's wife Bonnie Bedelia and ambition-driven journalist William Atherton, and the chumming between Willis and Twinkie-snarfing cop Reginald VelJohnson. While Willis once again stakes out the bad guys with basement planning, duct-system crawling and walkie-talking, "Die 2" also makes sure to rig the building for winky, elbow-nudging allusions to the original:
"Sssh, it's OK," Willis glib-speaks to a shocked passenger, as he pushes through the ceiling of an elevator. "I've done this before."
That's true, Bruce. You have.