Thursday, December 01, 2005

Yeah, like Gerbil Boy could have pulled off "Yippie-ki-yay, motherf*cker": "Die Hard"

No joke, apparently they wanted Richard Gere before Bruce Willis for this. And I guess Steve Guttenberg was busy, too.

I was all geared up to wax poetic about the virtues of Bruce's breakthrough movie, but let's just cut the crap: This movie is good.

About once a year, I end up popping "Die Hard" into the DVD player (and VCR before that), usually when it's late in the evening and I'm just looking to veg out to a known action-movie quantity. Until I get "Starship Troopers" and "Flash Gordon" on DVD, "Die Hard" will probably always win in these situations, and I make no apologies for that.

Really, can you name another member of this genre with (a) such a simple yet compelling cat-and-mouse plot and (b) a roster of performances with no weak links? Think about it ... everybody rocks in "Die Hard," not just Mr. Moonlighting.

We've got Reginald VelJohnson as the local cop with a good heart ... Bonnie Bedelia as the perfect ex-wife -- cute but feisty ... Paul Gleason (Principal Vernon from "The Breakfast Club!") as the dipsh*t deputy police chief ... William Atherton (The professor from "Real Genius!") as the slimy TV reporter ... Hart Bochner as the slimy executive trying to talk his way out of everything ... Alexander Godunov as the Eurotrash heavy. It's an All-Star team, even if every name isn't big.

Of course, all these folks are secondary to the mouse and the cat, Willis and Alan Rickman. As everyone and his brother knows, NYC cop Willis is in L.A. for the holidays, but while at his wife's holiday party, terrorists led by Rickman seize the skyscraper. What follows is Willis as a self-proclaimed "fly in the ointment, a monkey in the wrench" doing everything he can to stop the "terrorists" from the inside while the cops and Feds screw around outside.

If this sounds like something for Arnold or Sly, that's because it was them ... or Burt Reynolds or the aforementioned Gere. Remember that Willis had done only comedy -- "Moonlighting" and a couple of bad movies -- before trying bang-bang stuff. But that lighter side makes his John McClane a much better character than the muscleheads or pretty boys could have. Between shoot-outs and explosions, Bruce handles his one-liners perfectly, i.e. "I was always kind of partial to Roy Rogers actually. I really dig those sequined shirts."

This cannot be underestimated when it comes to the appeal of "Die Hard." Nor can Rickman, who also hadn't done many movies but set himself up for life as Hans Gruber. It's hard to describe his performance other than to say smooth, but not in a "hey baby" way. He's totally in control, which makes it great fun to watch the plan unravel, thanks to McClane. Rickman has had other good performances since then -- "Quigley Down Under," "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves," "Galaxy Quest" -- but to most men 25-50, I suspect he'll always be Hans. He could do worse.

Like I said, just a fun time all the way around, and "Die Hard" will never get old for me. The sequels ... eh, they're OK. But the first was the best, and I can only assume Willis learned his lesson about sequels from this. That surely explains why nothing ever followed "The Last Boy Scout."

(Come on ... that movie's all right! If only because Willis parodies himself. "This is the nineties. You don't just go around punching people. You have to say something cool first." I'd like that on DVD, too, and something tells me there's more than one copy in the Wal-Mart discount bin.)


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