If you ever doubted that Hollywood believes "bigger is better," you will doubt no more after "Die Hard With a Vengeance."
Bigger explosions, bigger and wilder car chases, a bigger and more outrageous heist. . . . But as is often the case with such efforts, bigger just proves to be louder, and in some ways more obnoxious.
The film begins with that downtown Manhattan explosion you've seen in the ads, where the cars flip over in the middle of a busy street. It's spectacular, but you've already seen it a dozen times if you watch any television.
From there, we learn that our old friend John McClane (Bruce Willis) has been separated from his wife for a year (Holly, Bonnie Bedelia's character, does not show up she's merely discussed). He has also become a borderline alcoholic and has been suspended from the New York Police Department.
But when the bomber, who identifies himself as "Simon" (Jeremy Irons), calls Chief Cobb (Larry Bryggman) to begin a series of nursery rhyme riddles as he threatens to explode other bombs around the city, he asks for McClane by name.
Cobb and two of his officers, Lambert (Graham Greene) and Kowalski (Colleen Camp), find McClane, sober him up and help him get on track to solve and follow the bomber's riddle-laden instructions. The games are dangerous and become more and more complicated, until McClane eventually figures out what he's really up to. (And the "vengeance" of the title proves to be something the villain is after for personal reasons.)
The first riddle sends McClane into Harlem, where he is inadvertently teamed up with a local merchant named Zeus (Samuel L. Jackson), and the bomber begins including him in the games as well. This leads to a tentative relationship, which quickly becomes "Lethal Weapon," with McClane playing the wild card and Zeus becoming the stabilizing force.
That's as true of the actors as the characters. Willis and Jackson do work well together, but Jackson is so naturally forceful that he often steals the show. It is too bad, however, that screenwriter Jonathan Hens-leigh ("A Far Off Place") has saddled them with so much racist cross-talk, a running "gag" that seems unnecessary and rears its ugly head all too often, especially since the movie is too frivolous to seriously explore such issues.
There are some genuinely surprising plot twists, but it's too bad McClane's domestic life is only superficially discussed. This time out, character dimension pretty much goes out the window.
Jeremy Irons has fun as the evil soldier of fortune with a desire to blow McClane away. But Greene and Camp are wasted in throwaway roles.
There is also some unexpected gore and the blood flows pretty freely. Some killings are left to the imagination, but too many are gruesomely on display. A hair-raising subway chase will bring "Speed" to mind, and there are several action sequences that are quite thrillingly staged. But there are also several that degenerate into such ridiculous extremes that they would seem over the top to Indiana Jones.
And, of course, there is the already discussed-to-death parallels with the bombings in Oklahoma City. (The film was in production long before that tragedy occurred.)
Where the first two "Die Hards" took place on Christmas Eve, this one is set during one summer day. And John McTiernan, who directed the first and best of the series, is back again . . . though he's obviously more interested in things that go boom this time.
That probably won't deter fans during the film's first few weeks, but whether it will hold up for repeat viewings and attain blockbuster status is anyone's guess.
"Die Hard With a Vengeance" is rated R for violence, gore, profanity, vulgarity and sex.