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Hans Grubering It Up: Die Hard & Die Hard 2

Last weekend, as part of my quest to actually see the films that everyone else in the world already saw 2-3 decades ago, I watched Die Hard and Die Hard:2.

The first thing I have to do is admit that I love Bruce Willis. I love pretty much anything Bruce Willis does. I realize that he's really not the best actor in the world, and I'm okay with that. And I am also aware that he should avoid most serious films (aka things that don't involve explosions or handguns) because his lack of acting skills can be a problem. However, he's great in Sin City, Pulp Fiction, The Fifth Element (one of my favorite movies), and passable in Sixth Sense. I'm also a big fan of the little known 1988 movie Sunset, in which Willis plays Tom Mix, James Garner plays an aging Wyatt Earp, and the two of them solve a murder mystery in 1929 Hollywood. Bruce Willis is good at that whole "tough and laconic action hero" thing, but he's also (as many macho action stars seem to) got a knack for comedy, and doesn't seem afraid to laugh at himself.

Die Hard was much better than I expected. The plot, while far-fetched, was at least marginally plausible. (What I mean here is that yes, it's a movie plot, and therefore not entirely realistic. However, it at least hung together enough that it wasn't distracting to me.) Detective John McClane is a sympathetic character, and his exchange with the limo driver at the beginning of the movie got me on board with him right away. I also really enjoyed his later interactions with the L.A. police officer played by Reginald VelJohnson (best known, of course, for his role as Carl Winslow on Family Matters), which showed a more human side to McClane--he's not played as some kind of super-hero. He's a guy whose marriage is shakey, who likes to smoke, and is not averse to playing a little dirty. Okay, yes, he takes a beating that would kill any real person, he single-handedly kills roughly 10 bad guys, and he walks across broken glass--but in the end he's still just a guy. The stunts were pretty impressive, and the special effects were reasonable for the time. Hans Gruber (played by Alan Rickman) was quite possibly a contender for my "Top 10 Awesomest Movie Villians of All Time" list--then again, can you beat Alan Rickman? I don't think he's every done anything I DIDN'T like, to be be fair. I like a villain who is calm, cool, and collected, rather than those kooky supervillains who run around shrieking manically all the time. In fact, I found myself hating the reporter, Thornberg, much more than Gruber. Which reminds me--even McClane's wife is badass--she's no damsel in distress, and is totally not afraid to punch someone in the face. In all, I enjoyed this movie quite a bit. Yippee-ki-yay motherfucker, indeed.

Die Hard 2, on the other hand, was a little more difficult to appreciate. I still liked McClane a lot. He's a likeable character, and Bruce Willis gives him a real charm. Unfortunately, this movie suffered from something I mentioned earlier: the terminally stupid plot. The plot was too complicated and yet simplistic that it was clearly very difficult for the actors to hold everything together. There are rogue soldiers! And they control the airport! And none of the planes can land! And there's a drug lord! And explosions! And snowmobiles! And Dennis Franz! It was just distracting in its ridiculousness. I think one of the main flaws was that the main villian was poorly cast. William Sadler makes a decent lower-level bad guy. He also plays slimy-rich-guy pretty well (as shown by his appearance on pretty much every crime procedural show in existance), andI personally think his best showing was as the Hank Williams-loving con Heywood in The Shawshank Redemption. However, he's not cut out to be a crazy-aggressive master villian. I didn't buy it. The rogue soldier thing was done more effectively by Ed Harris in The Rock, frankly. Don't get me wrong--I'm not saying it's a terrible movie that you shouldn't watch. I'm just saying that you shouldn't go in with too many expectations. As long as you understand what you're getting into--it's an over-the-top action movie with a lot of explosions and shooting and bad puns--you should be okay. But if you go in expecting Citizen Cane (or even the original Die Hard) you're going to be disappointed.

Full disclosure: Netflix screwed me again this week: 10 minutes into Die Hard 2, the sound cut out...and never came back. Luckily for me, subtitles were available. Still, it's possible I would have been more intrigued by the movie if I'd been able to hear the dialogue, music, etc.

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