An overinflated mishmash that compels the audience to sift through a lot of rubble for the few requisite thrills, this second “Die Hard” sequel leaves a lot of creative wreckage in its wake. That said, even a subpar adventure won’t kill this series, as the pic’s built-in audience will make it a major summer attraction, if perhaps one lacking quite the stamina of the first two movies.
Those who’ve raised their expectations based on the return of John McTiernan — who directed the first “Die Hard” as well as such muscular action vehicles as “Predator” and “The Hunt for Red October”– should think again.
Despite the pumped-up volume and budget, this is certainly the least accomplished of the three movies, tracing a scattered plotline that’s at times virtually indecipherable — in that sense closer to the big-noises-cloud-narrative-lapses mentality of another McTiernan directorial effort, “Last Action Hero.”
Even the premise — with Jeremy Irons as the terrorist brother of the late Hans Gruber, the character played deliciously in the first film by Alan Rickman — doesn’t provide much punch. The movie also benefits only sparingly from its “Lethal Weapon”-like rapport between Bruce Willis’ John McClane and a Harlem shopkeeper (por-trayed by the ubiquitous Samuel L. Jackson) unwillingly drawn into the action, as their bickering eventually grows tiresome.
These shortcomings emerge after a promising start, with Simon (Irons) blowing up a department store, then sending McClane — down on his luck, nearly alcoholic and on suspension — on a series of errands to prevent further explosions.
By happenstance he meets Zeus (Jackson), and the two take a hell-bent ride through New York to prevent a subway explosion in perhaps the pic’s crowning technical achievement. Between explosions, they also find plenty of time to banter about the black-white thing, each accusing the other of being a racist.
So far, so good, but then the pic degenerates into an improbable, confusing series of chases and an overly involved heist that takes far too long to set up.
The original script by Jonathan Hensleigh (“A Far Off Place”) wasn’t initially written for the “Die Hard” series, and some of the incongruity in adapting that property to suit the necessities of such a huge action yarn shows.
Irons, for example, proves a snide but relatively uninspired villain, and the movie lacks the self-contained simplicity of the earlier films by failing to settle on a venue, instead scampering all over town. The only consolation is that the wild storyline obscures whatever uncomfortable parallels may have existed between the threat of terrorism in the movie and the recent Oklahoma City bombing.
McTiernan clearly has a flair for directing action but even that feels peculiarly flat for long stretches here, though there are several impressive sequences spread throughout the proceedings.
Willis doesn’t add much to his by-now familiar combination of wisecracking and heroism as McClane, but it’s still a role uniquely suited to his talents. Jackson continues to impress, bringing ample humor to his character, who dives with remarkable speed and vigor into his life-threatening chores.
Tech credits remain the saving grace, with the crackling sound effects and spectacular stunt-work providing much of the pic’s visceral appeal. Some of the action is obscured by choppy editing (notably one shootout on a turnpike), but with the Dolby cranked up to deafening levels that’s a distinction that probably will be lost on Saturday-night crowds. Yet even they may find that “Die Hard With a Vengeance” doesn’t live up to its name.