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‘Die Hard With a Vengeance’

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
May 19, 1995


John McTiernan
Bruce Willis;
Samuel L. Jackson;
Jeremy Irons;
Graham Greene;
Colleen Camp;
Larry Bryggman;
Sam Phillips
excessive death and destruction in congested city settings. No sex, except for a brief encounter between Irons and a character called Katya

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The movies started as pure sensation. In the 1890s, French audiences ran screaming from a theater when an onscreen train headed toward them. Americans ducked with terror in 1903 when a gun was fired in their direction during the last moment of "The Great Train Robbery."

A century later, in "Die Hard With a Vengeance," we can see how far we've come and yet what little ground we've actually covered. Cutting to the chase: In terms of summer movie thrills, director John McTiernan's return to the "Die Hard" genre (he made the first one) is a triumph. I refer to more than two hours of blitzkrieg action, extraordinary stunts and explosions, and more climaxes than the previous two movies combined. And in the eye of this Sturm, Bruce Willis plays himself magnificently, while Samuel L. Jackson makes one of the great action-movie sidemen.

John McClane (that's Willis, as you probably know) is on the outs with his wife. Again. (Holly, played previously by Bonnie Bedelia, never appears in the movie, which is just as well: There isn't time.) Of course, McClane's drinking again. And he's suspended from the NYPD. But on this hung-over morning, it's time to get back to work. A nasty, European piece of work called Simon (Jeremy Irons) has made a personal request for the New York detective. The sadistic assailant—like everyone else, it seems—has gone bomb crazy. He claims to have rigged explosives all over the city.

McClane and his citizen-partner Zeus Carver (Jackson) are forced to run (or drive) from pay phone to pay phone, then defuse the latest big-boomer by solving riddles Simon throws at them. Everyone is in potential danger, including school kids, subway commuters and drivers (mostly when McClane gets behind the wheel). So, it turns out, is the infrastructural heart of Manhattan.

With extraordinary, state-of-the-art exaggeration, "Die Harder," scripted by Jonathan Hensleigh, goes from big to bigger to even bigger than that. It's pointless to fully describe the escalation of menace, plot twists and other alarming developments that take place. There's so much of it. Do you remember Nigel, the fictional British rocker in "This Is Spinal Tap," who insisted on turning up the volume of his amplifier to 11? "Die Harder" manages to reach that level.

The best thing about the movie is the relationship between McClane and Zeus: Willis has his role down so effortlessly, you feel like he's a dysfunctional part of your family. And Jackson, as a Harlem shopkeeper who gets involved with Willis through complicated circumstances (it has to do with Willis walking through Harlem with a racially inflammatory sandwich board ), is almost as good as he was in "Pulp Fiction." When a woman refuses to get off the pay phone that Simon will soon be calling on, he screams, "Get off the phone, lady! Police business." After she storms off, protesting wildly, the relatively mild-mannered shopkeeper retorts, "I could get used to this."

DIE HARD WITH A VENGEANCE (R) — Contains excessive death and destruction in congested city settings. No sex, except for a brief encounter between Irons and a character called Katya.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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