This follow-up to the 1988 genre-buster is one of those movies that does just about as much wrong as it can without completely sucking. It’s also not bad for a Renny Harlin movie, but if all you can claim is you’re better than Cutthroat Island, that’s not much to hang your hat on. The best you can say about it is that it keeps your eyes and ears sufficiently entertained that you don’t notice that your brain hasn’t joined in the reindeer games.
Like the original, we find John McClane (Bruce Willis) getting ready to celebrate Christmas with his wife, Holly (Bonnie Bedelia). This time, he’s holed up at Washington Dulles airport, waiting for Holly to land. Things are already off to a bad start, since he’s already let his in-laws’ car get towed for parking in the red zone. Holly’s day isn’t going much better because, in one of those coincidences only allowed in action movies, she’s cooped up on the plane with Dick Thornburg (William Atherton), the narcissistic TV reporter who almost got her killed in the first movie.
Not deterred, McClane sends the corpse’s fingerprints off to his buddy from the first movie, Al Powell (Reginald Veljohnson) in Los Angeles. It turns out that the dead body in the morgue is a soldier who was already a dead body in Central America. Just as McClane is bringing this to the attention of Lorenzo and the airport’s chief of operations (current presidential hopeful Fred Thompson), the control tower starts to shut down, seemingly all by itself.
It turns out that a rogue army unit, led by an Ollie North-like colonel (William Sadler), has taken control of their systems and shut down the airport, preventing any planes from landing. If a Noriega-esque Central American dictator (Franco Nero) being extradited to the U.S. is not turned over to them, then the airliners circling overhead will start to fall out of the sky.
You could make yourself dizzy just counting all of the logical errors in the story, such as Dulles suddenly becoming the only airport on the east coast. If all of these planes have enough fuel to stay aloft for a couple of hours, there have to be dozens of airports they can reach on an emergency basis. And firearms experts still laugh themselves silly over McClane’s description of the dead “baggage thief’s” gun.
Still, unreal plots and factual errors are all part of a day’s work for the action movie fan. The real problem with this movie is a point-of-failure for a lot of bad-to-mediocre action movies, namely a weak villain or, in this case, villains. The first movie not only one of the most memorable movie bad guys in Hans Gruber, but Hans’ henchmen were allowed to have personalities that made them at least memorable. Sadler’s Col. Stuart is not only a two-dimensional character with trite, uninteresting motives, but his band of soldiers is nothing but a bunch of faceless targets for the straight-shootin’ John McClane. This film also features a double-cross that any self-respecting action movie fan saw coming some time during the opening credits.
Another problem is with the character of John McClane itself. In the first movie, he was a guy caught in a situation beyond his control. In this sequel, in order to be involved in the main story, he has to be an obnoxious pain-in-the-ass sticking his nose into other people’s business. Dennis Franz’s character is supposed to an incompetent asshole but after a couple of scenes between him and Bruce Willis, I felt more sympathy for him than I did for the supposed hero of the movie. McClane spends so much of this movie on his high horse that it’s amazing he didn’t get saddle sores.
The good stuff is mostly superficial. The action scenes are all expertly staged and genuinely exciting. The scene in which Col. Stuart deliberately crashes a plane into the ground has the intended emotional impact. If only the rest of the film had been this good.
It was probably unreasonable to expect Die Hard 2 to be as good or fresh as the original. It was not unreasonable, however, to expect them to try a bit harder than they did.