How can a film as dumb as DIE HARD 2: DIE HARDER be so enjoyable? This gargantuan sequel (loosely based on Walter Wager's more cerebral but less exciting novel "58 Minutes") is little more than a string of hopelessly improbable contrivances tied together with plenty of self-conscious nods to the original and overblown action sequences which defy both logic and physics. The genre cliches so deftly handled in the first film are employed here with all of the subtlety and precision of a hammer thrown (or, if you prefer, a barefoot, New York cop swinging on a fire hose) through a plate glass window. Similarly, the rather skillful use of profanity which generated so much tension-breaking humor in the previous entry is replaced here with an "f-bomb every two minutes" philosophy reminiscent of the techniques used by teenage girls to create their MySpace profiles. In short, DIE HARD 2 is DIE HARD with both a partial frontal lobotomy and a raging caffeine high. Why, then, do I love it so?
Maybe it's the fact that the movie steadily, expertly builds tension in the first half hour or so, then cuts loose like a runaway locomotive and doesn´t let up until the last terrorist is toast. The narrative may be unbelievable, but it is certainly never boring. Perhaps it's because William Sadler and the rest of the villains (including Robert Patrick and John Leguizamo) have traded in the greed and charm of Alan Rickman and company for frighteningly radical ideology and cold-blooded ruthlessness. These are some seriously scary gun-toting nutjobs. My affinity for this incredible sequel could stem from director Renny Harlin's excellent use of the film's airport location. The veteran action helmer gives us blazing battles on snowy runways, partially-constructed skywalks, luggage claim conveyor belts, and even a nearby frozen lake. Or maybe it's just all of the goodwill generated by the first film and carried over dutifully to this one by charismatic protagonists Bruce Willis and Bonnie Bedelia. No matter how many times I find myself involuntarily rolling my eyes at the convenient coincidences and plot twists, I still grin from ear to ear when Mr. and Mrs. John McClane are reunited in the closing moments.
The most likely answer, however, is that DIE HARD 2 delivers so much action and spectacle that even the most discriminating viewer (and I hardly qualify on that front) can´t help but have a rip-roaring good time. Consider, for example, the sequence in which the terrorists (who have hijacked the control tower and are holding eighteen circling passenger planes "hostage" in the sky overhead) cause a British jumbo jet to crash by manipulating the pilot´s instrument readings. The moments leading up to the disastrous impact are riveting, with McClane frantically racing out onto the runway with nothing but a pair of makeshift torches to try and guide the craft to safety, and the fiery crash itself is a cinematic catastrophe worthy of Irwin Allen himself. This positively show-stopping scene comes at about the midway point; we haven't even gotten to the ejector seat/grenade sequence, the snowmobile chase, the martial arts duel on the wing of a moving 747, or the delightfully ludicrous, "Yippee-ki-yay" finish involving a waterfall of jet fuel and a cigarette lighter yet. None of this bears any resemblance to reality, of course, but it makes for a genuinely thrilling, theme park ride of a movie.
If John McClane is an American, blue collar version of Britain's James Bond, DIE HARD 2 is probably most akin to DIE ANOTHER DAY, the everything-plus-the-kitchen-sink final 007 adventure for Pierce Brosnan. Both films are mammoth in scope, wholly bereft of logic, and wildly entertaining in spite of themselves. As its silly subtitle suggests, this movie is bigger and more grandiose than its predecessor, but nowhere near as clever or original. Still, it´s virtually impossible not to love a film that can overcome so many glaring problems and still leave the viewer cresting a 30-foot wave of adrenaline as the closing credits roll. Each time I watch it I pick it apart mercilessly, only to find myself humming Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" and reaching for my copy of DIE HARD WITH A VENGEANCE when it's over. As much as the critic in me hates to admit it, there aren't too many "intelligent" films that have that kind of affect on me.