GREG’S GRADE: B
“Die Hard with a Vengeance,” the third go-round for hero cop John McClane (Bruce Willis) and the return of “Die Hard” director John McTiernan, breaks away from the original formula even more than “Die Hard 2.” The battleground this time is New York City, where McClane, now separated from his wife (Bonnie Bedelia is nowhere in sight), once again is part of the NYPD and currently is on suspension.
The perpetrator of a department store bombing, who calls himself Simon (Jeremy Irons), specifically requests that McClane, who, in his words, is nursing a “perfectly good hangover,” participate in a game of elaborate riddles and tasks that sends him running from one end of the city to the other. The culmination of the game is a bomb hidden in one of the 1,000-plus schools in the NYC area, sending all the city’s emergency personnel into a massive search.
Simon, it turns out, is the brother of Hans Gruber, and he’s not too happy about McClane throwing him out a 30th-floor window a few years earlier. The revenge angle, though, is just a smokescreen; Simon’s true aim is robbery, specifically billions of dollars in gold from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, which Simon and his henchmen infiltrate in a rousing sequence set to a big, brassy rendition of “When Johnny Comes Marching Home" (you might know the melody better from the children's song "The Ants Go Marching").
Willis is as entertaining as ever as this down-on-his-luck version of McClane, but without the action occurring in a relatively confined space, this doesn’t exactly feel like a “Die Hard” movie. Also, for the first time in this series, McClane gains a partner when shop owner Zeus (Samuel L. Jackson) comes to his aid in Harlem, the humor that arises from their bickering — “You don’t like me ‘cause I’m white!” “I don’t like you because you’re gonna get me killed!” — creating a buddy-movie feel. The chemistry is there between Willis and Jackson, who was coming off his star-making turn in “Pulp Fiction” a year earlier, and their dynamic carries the movie.
Harlin gets the most out of each action set piece — the race to the subway bombing is particularly thrilling — but screenwriter Jonathan Hensleigh comes up a little short in tying it all together in a satisfying whole. The ending, especially, feels rushed and anticlimactic.
With a worldwide box office gross of $366 million, “Die Hard with a Vengeance” was the No. 1 movie of 1995. It ranked 10th domestically, pulling in $100 million — $17.5 million less than “Die Hard 2” five years earlier.
That spark that fired the first two films — that suspense, that overwhelming sense of dread that hung over every scene — is mostly absent. Don’t get me wrong — this is an entertaining movie, highlighted by Irons, whose slick and sinister Simon is second only to Alan Rickman’s Hans Gruber in the pantheon of “Die Hard” villains. It’s only inferior compared to two of the best action movies ever made.
Rated R for strong violence and pervasive strong language. 131 minutes.