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Die Hard 2: Die Harder (1990)

DIRECTOR: Renny Harlin

CAST:

Bruce Willis, Bonnie Bedelia, William Sadler, William Atherton, Franco Nero, John Amos, Fred Dalton Thompson, Dennis Franz, Art Evans, Reginald VelJohnson, Sheila McCarthy, Colm Meaney, Robert Patrick

REVIEW:

Die Hard was so solidly put together that it’s no surprise that Die Hard 2 (rather unimaginatively titled Die Harder) isn’t up to the same level, but it’s a little disappointing all the same.  Die Hard 2 is a serviceable, workmanlike action thriller, but it lacks a certain distinction.

John McClane (Bruce Willis) is once again about to be reunited with wife Holly (Bonnie Bedelia) for Christmas, this time waiting for her at Dulles International Airport. And once again, the reunion is interrupted as terrorists, this time mercenaries led by rogue Colonel Stuart (William Sadler) hijack the airport’s communications and shut down the runways to intercept the plane carrying their client, extradited South American dictator General Esperanza (Franco Nero).  Stuart has control over the air traffic control tower, which he demonstrates by deliberately misleading an unlucky plane and its passengers into driving itself into the ground as an object lesson not to interfere.  But McClane, of course, can’t help himself from becoming the wrench in the gears. Meanwhile, the planes, including the one carrying his wife (and returning obnoxious reporter William Atherton), circle endlessly above the darkened runways, growing dangerously short on fuel.

Renny Harlin, no stranger to action (Cliffhanger, Cutthroat Island, Deep Blue Sea), does a serviceable job. I don’t know if it’s his fault for the lack of freshness or not, but like many an inferior sequel, Die Hard 2 has all the familiar ingredients but without the spark of the original. Everything seems more workmanlike and standard action thriller fare, from the significantly dumber dialogue (full of typically ‘thank you, Captain Obvious’ lines like ‘my God! the runway’s disappeared!’), to the requisite ridiculously moronic police chief (Dennis Franz).  The first movie poked fun at action movie tropes like this in a savvy enough way that Paul Gleason’s Dwayne T. Robinson was amusing; here Franz’s counterpart is just annoying. Even John McClane doesn’t have as many good wisecracks and one-liners.

Bruce Willis is still at home in the role of John McClane, even if the material isn’t always up to the same level. William Sadler is adequate as Colonel Stuart, but he lacks the suave charisma and delicious scenery-chewing that made Alan Rickman’s Hans Gruber so memorable. Stuart is a generic bad guy, and pales further in comparison to Gruber. As the secondary villain General Esperanza, Franco Nero has less screentime and doesn’t make an impression. Bonnie Bedelia and William Atherton reprise their roles, ensuring a sense of continuity, while Reginald VelJohnson has basically a cameo. Also on hand are John Amos as the head of the Marines, Fred Dalton Thompson and Art Evans as the airport officials, Dennis Franz as the annoying idiot police chief, Robert Patrick as one of Stuart’s men (who also include John Leguizamo), Sheila McCarthy as an obnoxious reporter (between her and Atherton, the ‘annoying reporter out for a scoop’ stock character type is well-represented), and Colm Meaney as the pilot of one of the planes.

Despite the requisite shootouts, all handled serviceably by Harlin, the energy level feels a bit flat until the last third or so, when things pick up enjoyably. This last section is worthily entertaining of something connected to the first film, but it takes a while to get to the best parts. While he’s mostly a generic bad guy, the plane crash does an effective job of upping Colonel Stuart’s evil credentials a little, and later we get John’s high-flying escape from an exploding plane, a snowmobile chase, and the climactic explosive finish, although the main baddies’ fates are a little impersonal and underwhelming compared to the first movie. There’s still some effective humor, with Tom Bower supplying an amusing moment or two as a quirky janitor, the first meeting of McClane and General Esperanza, and William Atherton’s preening Dick Thornberg delivering his amusingly pretentious news report.

Die Hard 2 is a serviceable action thriller, but it’s not much more than serviceable, and certainly not in the same category as the original Die Hard, instead with the innumerable thrillers that strive for its level and fall short.

**1/2

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