19 AUGUST 1995, Page 36


Die Hard with a Vengeance ('15', selected cinemas)

Could try harder

Mark Steyn

Movies have been around 100 years now, and, as with the State Opening of Par- liament, they've developed their own time- honoured conventions, as quaintly perplexing to the modern world as Black Rod or the Cap of Maintenance. For exam- ple, Die Hard with a Vengeance is a cop thriller, so naturally there's a moment when the villain calls the precinct, the chief says 'Start the trace', a man in headphones hovers over some whirring tapes and flash- ing dials and the lieutenant tries to keep the bad guy on the line. As is traditional, this is immediately followed by the guy in the cans shaking his head and saying, 'Not enough time, Inspector.'

British Telecom subscribers will at this point be wondering: why don't they just dial 1471? Or why don't they get one of those bargain-basement Caller ID gismos? My own mother, I regret to say, has one of these, and now takes a sadistic pleasure, whenever a friend 'phones and says unfor- tunately the Church Tombola Committee is running late, in revealing that the poor woman's call is in fact being made from the hot tub of her Latin lover's mountain retreat. It's odd that the NYPD has a smaller surveillance budget than my moth- er. But movies like Die Hard are construct- ed from bits of lots of other movies, and the more this process continues the less they resemble anything approximating to reality.

Die Hard with a Vengeance is the third film in the series, but, cunningly, it could

'I've decided to come out.'

be the third film in any series, an all-pur- pose sequel to everything: Bruce Willis has now acquired a black buddy to banter with — just like Lethal Weapon; he has to solve elaborate puzzles and riddles — just like Indiana Jones; he has to pit his wits against hordes of East German spies who go around saying 'Schnell!' and `Jawohl!' — just like . . . Hey, come to think of it, hasn't the East German State ceased to exist? Well, yes, there's a line in the script acknowledging as much, but why let a little detail like the end of the Cold War get in the way of a good Cold War plot? Holly- wood so misses its all-purpose clear-cut Warsaw Pact bad guys that my advice to Eastern Europe would be to sell the place to Disney and let 'em run it as a Stalinist theme-park — Commieworld!

It's the star's job to transcend the formu- la, and, luckily, Die Hard has Bruce Willis. He's given all sorts of great performances this last year — opposite Paul Newman in Nobody's Fool, as the punchy prize-fighter in Pulp Fiction — but he's still written off as an action movie bozo, routinely lumped with those musclebound clods Stallone and Schwarzenegger. It's no comparison: Sly and Arnie are over-blown-up dolls; they walk as though they're trying to keep the cork in their butts and stop themselves deflating; they talk as though the string in their backs is starting to run down. Willis's character, John McLane, is exactly the same as theirs – the stereotypical maverick cop — but, unlike them, he can do comedy and he's unbeatable when it comes to being slumped: when we first see him, he's in the corner of a police van, hungover, unshaven, in his underwear, squinting at the world through those beady eyes while shrugging off some fuck-you line. In similar scenes, Sly and Arnie look as though they've had to be lowered into position. Willis has what all great stars have: the illusion of ease.

That's what gives the movie its life. John McTiernan is an efficient director, Jeremy Irons is a sterling megalomaniac, but it's Willis's wry, put-upon quality that humanis- es an otherwise mechanical piece of prod- uct. sure off-screen he's just as big a jerk as all the others, yet you never feel the set-pieces have been constructed just to make him look good. Watching him bounce a yellow cab across a crowded Cen- tral Park or being flushed up a drainage shaft into a municipal fountain is a reminder, after Costner's Waterworld, that what counts is not the hoops but the guy being put through them.

The script, by the way, is a model of its kind: instead of those planted one-liners that Sly and Arnie deliver as if they've been up all night practising them in front of a mirror, Willis is funny strictly in the character's vernacular. When Schwarzenegger blows some punk away, he says 'Hasta la vista, baby!' — that's a catch- phrase. When Willis does, he says, `Yippi- ki-ay, motherfucker!' — that's an authentic cry of triumph.