"Come out to the coast, we'll get together, have a few laughs...”
Nineteen years ago, NYC cop John McClane went to LA on Christmas Eve to visit his estranged wife at her company's holiday party.
During the festive soiree, he lost his shoes, defeated a gang of would-be terrorist/thieves, humiliated some FBI guys, got a gun-shy cop back on his feet, won back the love of his life, Holly, and made it "snow" in California. Oh, and yeah. He also redefined the modern action movie and set the bar so high it'll probably never be hurdled.
John's wifebeater went from white to grimy to downright dark green as he wittily sassed his way through gunshots and broken glass. As McClane's shirt darkened, Bruce Willis's star rose. As Gudunov bit the dust, Alan Rickman defined "bad guy." And as the one-liners stacked up and feebs exploded, director John McTiernan created a masterpiece of modern movies.
Special effects have gotten better, but I still can't believe that they'd have marginally improved upon the production of this film. The thrills in this movie are still heart-in-your throat, and there are a few explosions. But so much of the tension comes from intimate danger to our hero, even though the stakes are considerably higher due to the hostages. And through it all, McTiernan never once lost sight of what McClane was suffering for -- Holly. (even her name works with the Christmas theme)
There were action movies and action heroes before Die Hard. But they were never as sassy, sophisticated, sly, or satisfying. I mean, come on. Reginald VelJohnson even carries the Dickensian torch of Tiny Tim throughout this picture -- and it works! The plot of the movie unfolds like a gilded origami. And then it wraps itself back up with neat precision and every thread combines to create the perfect red bow.
But the delightful gift inside the beautifully wrapped box is still Bruce Willis as John McClane. Before Willis, Stallone and Schwarzenegger ruled the roost of this genre. Both had bigger body mass, but less brains. (Stallone's "Rocky" had an amicable meathead charm about him. Schwarzenegger could toss off a one-liner. But they were generally dull and almost workmanlike.) Bruce, he didn't just bring the muscle, he brought the smart-ass funny. Him and his pursed lips and insouciant smirk. From squinty-eyed to slack-jawed disbelief, he was all at once hard-headed and hot-tempered, but with a heart-of-gold and having a ball. And he was smart. He wasn't just out-gunning the bad guys, he was outwitting them. Also? He was sexy when he'd bleed.
"Yippee-kai-yay, motherfucker" may never be as festively appropriate as "Ho Ho Ho." But this movie will never lose its place in the pantheon of great action movies and cheerful Christmas flicks.