Die Hard: With a Vengeance ★★★½

Director McTiernan's back in DIE HARD 3. He was sorely missed in the second entry which was mostly soulless, noisy garbage, so his circling back to the DIE HARD universe was much welcomed--a quarter century ago. DIE HARD: WITH A VENGEANCE is a go-go-go return to action blockbuster mayhem, but unlike #2, it once again has a heart.

DIE HARD: WITH A VENGEANCE is not perfect by any means. It is filled with loopholes, lapses of logic, and nonsensical segues throughout the script. However, it oscillates with enthusiasm and heart. For example, following an illogically timed separation of Det. McClane and his civilian-cop-buddy, Zeus (Sam Jackson) they are placed at opposite ends of New York. In McClane's subplot, he finds himself in a gusher of water exploding from a manhole (that's just the kind of film it is). He is geysered out of a pipe along the highway, but lands beside Zeus who happens to be driving by. This type of lazy writing abounds throughout DIE HARD: WITH A VENGEANCE, but it doesn't matter. Somehow, the film rises above its oft-recurring inanity.

A big part of it is Willis and Sam Jackson. They are a dream pairing--every bit as compelling to watch as Gibson and Glover. Willis can banter and gripe and swear and Jackson can return the profanity threefold. And with these two, it's not just the R-rated dialog or cliched material they cover. There is a genuine chemistry and connection between the two stars that enriches the explosions and gunfire. This is a special trait of McTiernan's. He doesn't just manage the stuntwork and car chases. He finds a chemistry that spawns characters worth rooting for. As ludicrous as Jeremy Irons' "Simply Simon" riddles and brain teasers are, he does generate a legit screen rivalry between him and McClane.

In a subplot where Irons' bad guy distracts the NYPD with a school bomb scare, DIE HARD 3 conjures up a surprising amount of heart and earnest care for the kids and cops involved. Graham Greene--no stranger to throwaway roles--actually does a lot with very little and is the heart of the tense school-bomb subplot. It's surprisingly moving; truly an oddity in a full-metal summer studio tentpole.

WITH A VENGEANCE also does a great job with its location work--another change from 1980s action which typically felt bound to studios, back lots, and night shooting. The opening explosion on the New York street and the dump truck chases feel authentic and immediate--almost like real interruptions to my morning commute. This is a total breath of fresh air compared to DIE HARD 2's cramped airport sets.

The runtime is a fairly ordinary two-hours-plus, but DIE HARD 3 moves at a torrid pace. There are many action scenes, and most of them are pretty good. But, like a good team-building retreat, there are also plenty of brain teasers, riddles, and other such ice-breakers. This film features no down time at all. There are no scenes devoted to transition. Characters seemingly are transported across time when they need to be. The police handling the film's opening terrorist attack request John McClane's presence. Suddenly, he's there. A car needs to do a stunt to jump off an overpass to catch up to a dump truck--boom, it's done, in like three quick shots. None of this slow-motion, multi-angle crap that they could have borrowed from SPEED. No time for that. Get the car closer to the trucks.

DIE HARD: WITH A VENGEANCE really shouldn't work, but at the end of the day it recaptures some of the magic of the original by giving Bruce Willis a high-quality foil and a decent British villain. All the foolish is acceptable because those relationships work.

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