RP011 Die Hard

(1988, Action, color)


Matthew Elliott

You don’t need personality when you have a gun.

Rating: ***

In a Nutshell:

Bruce Willis fights European terrorists in a booby-trapped skyscraper.


The aptly-named but short-lived Volcano Tower.Angry with his wife for accepting a high-paying job in Los Angeles, New York cop John McClane (Bruce Willis) refuses to move there with the rest of the family. As our movie opens, however, McClane softens enough to fly out for Christmas, meeting his wife at her office party.

Just then, terrorists attack! Well, infiltrate actually, slaying the security guards and putting on their uniforms while others cut off all phone contact with the outside world. Their leader Hans (Alan Rickman) takes everyone hostage and herds them into the main room. McClane was in the bathroom at the time; he avoids detection during the room-to-room search and sneaks out the back. He starts shadowing the terrorists, witnessing the shooting of the company boss, writing down names, and noting the quality and origin of their equipment.

His next goal: notify the authorities. First he pulls the fire alarm, but the terrorists are in control of the phone lines; they call in to cancel the alarm. Hans sends a henchman over to see who pulled it. McClane breaks the henchman’s neck, taking off with his weapon, some explosives and a short-wave radio. He uses it to call for help on the emergency channel.

He is so high right now.The dispatchers think he’s a crank caller, but eventually send a single cop to investigate anyway. The cop (Al) walks in, chats up a false security guard, and goes back to his car to call in another false alarm. By this time, McClane has encountered and killed several more henchmen. He throws a body out the window, which gets Al’s attention by landing on his squad car. Al drives backward as fast as he can while terrorists fire at him out the windows. Soon the place is surrounded by cops. Unfortunately, they’re inept cops commanded by a moronic police chief. S.W.A.T. troops charge the building despite a barrage of small arms fire and heavy rocket fire. McClane has to blow up the rocket-wielding terrorists with his stolen explosives to let the wounded policemen escape.

The rest of the film chronicles a bloody game of hide-and-seek throughout the booby-trapped skyscraper. Hans gradually reveals that his terrorist rhetoric is a cover for his real motives—to steal six hundred million dollars from the company vault. Meanwhile, a moronic hostage and an even more moronic news reporter reveal McClane’s identity, compromising his ability to rain sneaky death on Hans's henchman one by one. Hans eventually figures out which hostage is McClane’s wife, and takes her aside while sending the rest up on the roof to meet their would-be FBI rescuers. McClane figures out that the roof is wired to explode, and chases everyone back down the stairwell while fending off the aggressively stupid FBI.

Eventually, McClane rescues his wife from Hans using his last two bullets, some packing tape and a discarded Rolex. As the survivors stagger from the building, all the surviving moronic authority figures get punched, and Al (who, in an earlier bit of radio exposition, confessed to McClane that he retired from street copping when he shot a kid by mistake) regains his confidence just in time to pump the last surviving terrorist full of lead.


We're ready for our close-up, Mr. Willis.It is implied by the tender embrace at the close of the film that McClane and his wife will get back together and Live Happily Ever After. Does this further imply that the gory, profanity-laden cat-and-mouse conflict has taught McClane several valuable new relationship skills, allowing him to let go of his resentment and express greater appreciation while apologizing for his shortcomings in the home, clearing the air for renewed partnership and more open communication with his spouse in the future? Or will they have great make-up sex for a few days before devolving back into their habit of screaming at each other about their respective careers while their children huddle tearfully in the next room? I haven’t seen Die Hard 2, but Wikipedia says he’s still married in it, so I guess the former, less plausible scenario is the one that applies... Oh wait. I just remembered that this is an action film. That means Mrs. McClane will realize What a Fool She’s Been and reward her rescuer with complete, unconditional submission. Relationship saved! Huzzah!

But then, pointing out the sexism in action movies is like complaining that daffodils are yellow. If that’s not what I’m looking for, then I ought to go out and pick some other kind of flower. Compared to its peers, Die Hard is actually pretty good. The violence is clear and satisfying; most of the non-violent scenes build tension; and the screenplay establishes its plot and characters fairly well without getting bogged down in them. In fact, it would achieve near-perfect action-movie-hood if not for one grating quirk—all the authority figures are morons. Seriously, there is not a single character with any kind of civic authority who amounts to more than a broadly played, one-dimensional nitwit. The police chief, the TV reporter, the FBI agents, the police dispatcher—every one of them acts with seemingly intentional incompetence in just such a way as to put our hero in greater danger. No one says that action movies have to be plausible, but if three quarters of your supposedly-able-to-function-in-adult-society supporting characters couldn’t pour water from a boot if the instructions were printed on the heel, you’ve got to expect to aggravate your audience.

British writer/radio performer Matthew J. Elliott returns for his third Rifftrax Presents title, and I finally get to see what he can do with a movie I actually enjoy. Turns out he can do pretty well. He’s still by far the calmest voice of the extended Rifftrax family—a tone that doesn’t quite fit with the ear-splitting mayhem of Die Hard—but he has a keen sense of timing and is nearly always handy with an well-turned phrase. A sample of the commentary: Regarding an establishing shot of a Southern California sunset: “Either they just dropped the big one, or that’s the L.A. skyline.” When a sudden close-up reveals a noise to be just a table saw: “This is not a drill!” When Al shakes off his troubled past to shoot the last terrorist: “He’s finally regained the urge to kill. I was looking for a happy ending, and there it is.” Also notable are the numerous references to episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000. You almost have to have seen every episode to get them all. On the other hand, despite the presence of Alan Rickman in every other scene, Mr. Elliott shows remarkable restraint by including only one Harry Potter joke. With a fun movie to go with his fun commentary, this is the best Matthew Elliott Rifftrax thus far.