Because they secretly hate children and happiness, every year Hollywood studios unleash terribly clichéd Christmas movies in an effort to cash in on America’s collective holiday joy. While occasionally these movies turn out well (like Elf and … um … did I mention Elf?), for the most part, they are unwatchable crap.
It’s the same themes every year, either some jackass hates his life and hates Christmas, but magically finds redemption and happiness thanks to the help of some divine intervention (A Christmas Carol, It’s A Wonderful Life, Family Man) or a series of “wacky hijinks” befalls the protagonist, almost ruining Christmas, but in the end everything works out just fine (Home Alone, Jingle All the Way, Christmas With the Kranks).
When I’m looking to get into the Christmas spirit, I don’t turn to any of this generic Hollywood garbage, instead I turn to the one movie that timelessly captures the true spirit of the season – Die Hard. So, in an effort to bring a little sunshine and happiness to your hectic holiday season, I am bringing back a special feature to this column – the Old School Movie Review (here are my reviews of Footloose and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles). So put on your Santa hat, kick off your shoes and start making fists with your toes, because it’s time to head into Nakatomi Plaza …
If you are unfamiliar with the plot of Die Hard, then frankly, there is something wrong with you and we can’t ever be friends. But, just so we are all up to speed, here is a quick recap – New York City Police Detective John McClane (played by Bruce Willis, who at that point was best known for his role on Moonlighting) flies out to Las Angeles on Christmas Eve in an attempt to reconnect with his estranged wife Holly Gennero (Bonnie Bedelia). McClane is picked up in a limo and heads to his wife’s Christmas party, which is being held at Nakatomi Plaza, a state of the art skyscraper with several floors under construction.
Before John and Holly have much of a chance to work things out, a group of terrorists, led by Hans Gruber, take over Nakatomi Plaza and use the party guests as hostages. However, the “terrorists” turn out to be a gang of thieves interested in stealing millions from the building’s vault. McClane manages to sneak away undetected and proceeds to kick ass, taking down the terrorists one by one, ultimately saving the day and his marriage in the process.
It’s a pretty simple idea, but one that works to perfection. What makes this movie is Alan Rickman’s portrayal of Hans Gruber. Rickman makes such a terrific villain and his character is the perfect foil for John McClane. And, while everyone remembers Bruce Willis’ classic line: “Yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker!” (voted #96 on Premiere magazine’s “100 Greatest Movie Lines”), to me, the best line in the film is Rickman’s deadpan delivery of: “Now I have a machine gun. Ho! Ho! Ho!”
Die Hard is quite possibly the best action movie ever made. It has a great setup, a lot of kick ass action sequences, just the right amount of humor and an outstanding hero and villain. The movie even has the clichéd commanding officer who is upset that McClane isn’t following standard police procedure (played flawlessly by the late Paul Gleason). It’s a movie formula that has been copied countless times, but none of the imitators can quite live up to the original Die Hard.
Besides, the climax of the film (hehehe, I said “climax”), when a bloodied, disheveled John McClane stumbles into the room where Gruber and one of his henchmen have guns drawn on Holly and John manages a “Hi honey” is one of my favorite scenes in any movie I’ve ever seen. The aforementioned “Yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker!” exchange between Grueber and McClane that ensues is just classic.
That being said, having seen the move about a million times, there are a few things about it that are less than stellar. For instance, while suspension of disbelief is required for any good action movie, the scene where McClane ties a fire hose around his waist and jumps off the roof of Nakatomi Plaza just as a bomb goes off is completely ludicrous (although sadly, this improbable scene would later be topped by the scene in Die Hard With A Vengance where McClane and Zeus climb down from a bridge onto a boat using the cable on the back of their SUV and, more recently, the scene in Live Free or Die Hard where McClane is able to blow up a helicopter using a car).
Also improbable is the terrorist group itself. While most of the terrorists are Eastern European bad asses, there is randomly an Asian guy who enjoys eating Crunch bars, a Southern redneck who they have pose as the front desk clerk at the plaza and a nerdy Cosby-sweater-wearing black guy played by Clarence Gilyard Jr. (of Walker, Texas Ranger fame) who they use to hack into the security system. It’s hard to imagine where this Eastern European gang would have acquired these three men (especially Gilyard’s character, who seems far too nerdy to hang out with such a cool terrorist organization). This was in the days before the Internet, so it’s not like Hans Grueber could just put up an ad on Craigslist looking for thugs from different walks of life in an effort to make his gang ethnically diverse. Were all of these guys in the same bowling league? Did they all meet up at some crazy Hollywood party? I need answers.
Another problem with the movie is that while the action scenes and the plot are mostly timeless, there are a few things about the movie, which was released in 1988, that make it seem incredibly dated. For starters, the security system that Gilyard hacks into is comically low-tech (I think most iPods are more complex than Nakatomi’s security system was). And the cocaine-snorting, weasely character Ellis is definitely an 80s creation. But the two most glaringly out of date aspects of the film are Bonnie Bedeila’s terrible perm and the character of Argyle, McClane’s limo driver, who is the kind of over-the-top black stereotype that would cause Al Sharpton to protest the movie if it was made today.
There is also an unintentionally hilarious aspect to the film, which is the love story. Most action movies tack on some lame love storyline in an attempt to woo female viewers. Die Hard doesn’t really have much time to develop the love plot between John and Holly since the two characters spend the majority of the movie separated from each other. However, there is a secondary love plot in the film – one that no one really talks about – and that is the obvious love connection between John McClane and Sgt. Al Powell (played by Reginald VelJohnson). Sgt. Powell is a cop stationed outside the building who communicates with McClane throughout the film using a walkie-talkie and gives him words of encouragement like, “We’re all pulling for you.” Powell even defends McClane’s actions to Paul Gleason’s character with his impassioned, “The man is hurting. He’s alone, tired, and he hasn’t seen diddly-squat from anybody down here. Now you’re going to stand there and tell me that he’s going to give a damn about what you do to him, if he makes it out of there alive?”
Willis and VelJohnson have a remarkable chemistry together and McClane honestly seems more excited when he heads outside the building and sees Powell for the first time than he does when he is finally reunited with Holly (granted, when he sees Holly, Hans has a gun to her head and McClane is bloodied and beaten-down, but still). You may think I’m reading too much into things, but if you’ve ever seen Die Harder (and, if you have, I’m sorry), then you saw how gay for each other they were in that film.
I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if someone made a movie filling in the gap between Die Harder and Die Hard With A Vengeance that revealed that the reason John and Holly’s marriage fell apart a second time and he ended up back in New York was because he left her for a short fling with Al Powell, which ultimately failed when Powell got married, had several children and moved next door to Steven Urkel.
Unintentionally gay undertones and bad-Cosby-sweaters aside, Die Hard might just be the best action movie ever made and it is certainly better than the standard Christmas fare. So instead of watching those scary Claymation Rudolph movies this holiday season, why not pour some egg nog and have a Die Hard marathon? (Side Note: This year’s Live Free or Die Hard, just released on DVD, is the best film in the franchise since the original.)
Random Thought of the Week:
Santa Claus impersonators in Sydney, Australia have been told they can’t use the phrase “Ho! Ho! Ho!” because it is offensive to women. A grown man in a red velvet outfit gets children to sit on his lap by offering them presents and they are offended by the “Ho! Ho! Ho!” line?
Joel Murphy is the creator of HoboTrashcan, which is probably why he has his own column. He loves pugs, hates Jimmy Fallon and has an irrational fear of robots. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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