“How does the same shit happen to the same guy twice?” asks Detective John McClane, the heroic smartass New York cop played with winning bravado by Bruce Willis. Simple. If your movie’s a hit, as the first Die Hard was in 1988, you do a sequel, and you change as little as possible. The locale has been switched from an L.A. high-rise to a Washington, D.C., airport, but otherwise McClane is again trying to save his wife, Holly (Bonnie Bedelia), and innocent citizens from terrorists. The action is spectacular. In one sequence, the camera takes a bird’s eye view of McClane ejecting himself from the pilot seat of a grounded plane as the aircraft explodes beneath him. Screenwriters Doug Richardson and Steven de Souza also add a welcome dollop of humor. McClane, vowing to “wake up and smell the Nineties,” faces a daunting new challenge: using a fax machine.
Director Renny Harlin, straight from Ford Fairlane, has taken a literal reading of the subtitle, Die Harder. He’s upped the ante on everything, especially the gore. The film is bursting with bad guys, including Franco Nero as a Latin American dictator and drug trafficker about to face trial, William Sadler as the maniacal leader of a special-forces unit hired to rescue the dictator and William Atherton as a sleaze-ball TV journalist trapped on a plane with McClane’s wife. In Die Hard, director John McTiernan gave precedence to one villain, played by Alan Rickman. Wise move. None of the new knaves can match Rickman’s subtle malevolence. However impressively made, Die Hard 2 begins to wear thin. Though the follow-up is bigger, it’s not really better. The surprise is missing.