Looking Back At DIE HARD

Yippee Ki Yay! Tom Pheby checks his invite to the Nakatomi Plaza.

Die Hard was recently advertised on TV as "one of the best action movies of all time", which is quite a claim, but I'll get to the plausibility of that statement soon enough, first though let's discuss Bruce Willis.

Bruce first achieved fame back in the 1980s when he co-starred with Cybill Shepherd in the gooey and slightly nauseating Moonlighting, where, by all accounts, he became a heartthrob for many women around the world. Strange really, as Willis was not a smoldering good looker, he appeared to be about four and a half feet tall and was running out of hair before the end credits of episode one. This gave a lot of ordinary single middle aged guy's hope that their time was still to come and their genitals would not necessarily wither and fall off before some girl found them attractive. So Willis became the exact type of male celebrity that Hollywood loves to milk for all they are worth, one who is loved equally by the guys and the girls.

Whilst still holding down the day job of Moonlighting, Bruce filmed back to back comedies with director Blake Edwards. Neither were much different to what Willis' fanbase were used to. The first, Blind Date, achieved medium success, with Willis comfortably swapping Cybill Shepherd for Kim Basinger and ably treading the rom-com territory that made up much of Moonlighting's output. Next up was Sunset; set in the 1920s and co-starring James Garner, it too was light-hearted affair with a love interest (not James Garner), but also dipped into the detective side of Moonlighting as Garner and Willis teamed-up to solve a murder. However, Sunset was a huge flop. It only made back about 25% of its cost, and so it looked as if Willis might forever be consigned to the small screen. Somewhere he was clearly comfortable with, being only four and a half feet tall.

And then came Die Hard, and overnight the perception of Willis the actor was radically changed. I don't think anyone could've seen Willis prior to Die Hard and thought "You know what? That bloke from Moonlighting would make a great action hero". Because up until then it just seems completely improbable. Here's a middle aged balding man who is, at best, a mediocre actor. He's physically fit but without the physique of say Arnold Schwarzenegger, yet with little more than a sideways smirk, a dirty vest and a yippee ki yay, Willis was catapulted overnight into the realm of Hollywood's elite muscle men.

So let's get to Die Hard. Willis plays John McClane. A gritty, no nonsense New York cop who flies out to meet his estranged spouse, Holly Gennaro (Bonnie Bedelia) for the festive period. He's not likely to be getting any Christmas cheer from her this year, or any other for that matter, as the tensions between them surface quicker than a nuclear sub with a radiation leak.

The Neanderthal Willis heads to the Nakatomi Plaza where his wife's Christmas party is subjected to some heavy handed,Gestapo type gate crashing, led by the dependable Alan Rickman as Hans Gruber - prior to his irritating Harry Potter offerings. This hostage scenario is supposedly politically motivated, but we are all wise enough to this type of film to know otherwise, and that money is the main motivator in the piece as the mercenaries bully and shoot anyone in sight as part of their unique take on Christmas spirit.

As soon as the shooting commences McClane runs around the building in a vest, loses his shoes and starts eradicating the threat of these foreign invaders by throwing them out of windows, down lift shafts or tying the to swivel chairs. In fact Bruce can find more uses for dead bodies than he can for any type of practical clothing as he smoozes his way through the bullets and a series of corny cliches.

The continuity of Die Hard is a serious headache at times as the dirty vest becomes cleaner only to become grubby - come on wardrobe, sort it out ! Willis also seems to have an inordinate amount of time to smoke his way through an endless packet of fags, which must surely have been Hollywood duty free's.

Once he alerts the LAPD about the siege, Bruce Almighty rampages through the building like a bout of D and V, and he's about as welcome. McClane's body seems to hold at least twenty pints of blood, for he's wounded every few minutes, even lacerating his feet almost to the bone, but it'll take more than that to stop him shooting stuff. He comes off as a cross between Rambo and Phillip Marlow in a modernized cop carnage/carry on vehicle, but it is superbly done and works well with its limitations.

We disappointingly have to mull through a series of characters that are light, predictable in content and utterly forgettable, including the FBI Johnson's; one Black, one Hispanic, you know they lack something when one announces that they are not related (must be an FBI joke). Making up for that disgrace to the law is the kindred spirit McClane finds in the twinky eating flatfoot Sgt Al Powell, played by Reginald VelJohnson. Their conversations become something of a two way radio bromance.

Die Hard is really just an excuse for Bruce Willis to be incredibly smug and show off his balls to anyone willing to give them a second look, but it's the type of action movie that engages the viewer to will him on rather loudly until the last man is standing for a hooray moment. It's well paced, crammed with action and rarely attempts to stray far from its high noon roots. It's one of those films you can easily watch over and over again, finding comfort in its established format as the bad guys drop as regularly as a male strippers trousers.You can't seem to help or curb your enthusiasm for it, which made me slightly uncomfortable, maybe I'm deeply damaged or something?

Since the success of Die Hard I don't think it's any secret that Bruce Willis has become a bit typecast as an action hero. He'll briefly take a break to make a Sixth Sense or pop up on Friends, but you tend to find him either blowing stuff up or shooting at things - and that's just on his days off.

Of course Die Hard was always going to get the inevitable sequel, but after 1990s Die Harder you just wondered how many more ways they would be able to fit the title into future outings. As it turns out it was quite a lot, and they're not done yet! Which on the strength of the last two is a real pity.

So is Die Hard "one of the best action movies of all time"? Well it's up there, but it's got a lot competition. It might not be the best of the best, but it certainly tried hard

Script Writer, Poet, Blogger and junk television specialist. Half English, half Irish and half Alsatian, Tom is well known for insisting on being called Demetri for reasons best known to himself. A former film abuser and telly addict who shamefully skulks around his home town of Canterbury after dark dressed as Julie Andrews. Follow Tom on Twitter
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