Welcome to the JOE-DOWN, a back-and-forth movie review blog by two snarky newspapermen named Joe from Minnesota, Joe Froemming and Joe Brown. We will take turns selecting a movie — any movie we want — and review it here. For this installment, Froemming picked “Die Hard.”
The Movie: “Die Hard”
Starring: Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman, Bonnie Bedelia
Director: John McTiernan
Plot Summary: (From IMDB) An NYPD officer tries to save his wife and several others taken hostage by German terrorists during a Christmas party at the Nakatomi Plaza in Los Angeles.
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 93 percent
Froemming: Last week, Brown nearly destroyed me by forcing us to watch another movie about magical pants and the vapid morons who sport them. I was livid. My brain screamed in agony. I wanted revenge.
What to pick to get back at him with? I could not sit through another journey to Forks, Wash. because, frankly, there are only so many bad movies I am willing to sit through in a month, which the JOE-DOWN has really tested these past three years.
What about a movie Brown loves? See, Brown was stupid enough to tell me that “Die Hard” is a perfect movie, which is ridiculous because that honor goes to “Bio-Dome,” but I am not here to argue. I am here to live free and review hard.
So I picked the 1988 action classic about a schlubby New York cop who fights off robbers in a skyscraper in LA while being a disgusting pig by not wearing shoes or socks.
WELCOME TO THE PARTY, PAL! So Brown, while I tie this hose around my waist and jump off of Nakatomi Plaza and swing through the window of snark for this review, why don’t you let us know how you feel about this?
Brown: What are we doing here?
Honestly, this is a PERFECT movie. You’re going to be reviewing/criticizing this movie all by yourself.
Want further proof of that? Here are my literal notes while watching this movie:
This isn’t my favorite movie. That distinction will go to “Goodfellas.” But, this is my favorite action movie and I’d put it in my top three. And, definitely the best Christmas movie. “A Christmas Story” sucks, people.
Froemming: Well, here is the thing, it is not a perfect movie. Entertaining? Yes. Awesome? Sure. Fun? You bet. Best Christmas movie? Without a doubt.
But perfect? I don’t think so. Exhibit A. being Chekov’s Argyle. Exhibit B. being John McClane wandering around a corporate office with his stinky bare feet exposed during a damn Christmas party.
But that is to be discussed, I will kick this off.
Brown: Still. Perfect.
Froemming: I don’t think that word means what you think it means.
So we are introduced to our hero, John McClane as he is flying to LA to reunite with his estranged wife and children. And right away, we see this hard-boiled cop just sit on a plane silently as the guy next to him talks about how being barefoot and squishing one’s toes into carpet helps with the fear of flying.
This…this has to be one of the dumbest foreshadowings I have seen. It is why he takes his shoes off at his wife’s office. That is a place of business, John, not some free-wheeling hippie commune where clothes are optional and Charles Manson plays the old guitar.
Also, if I sit next to a person with bare feet on a plane, you bet your ass I am going to step on them so they put some shoes on.
Brown: People’s feet are gross. I won’t deny that. But John McClane does this in a private office bathroom. That is a far cry from some cubicle where you can hit someone getting fatter while munching on their Jimmy John’s sandwich where there is so much mayonnaise the meat slides out of the bread.
Also, don’t lie to me and say you didn’t try that toe/carpet thing after a long day. It feels pretty good. It’s not bliss like this guy says but it does feel good.
Froemming: I have one of those foot massagers that you dunk your feet into a plastic thing of water. I am an adult, sir, not a bum.
Brown: God, flaunt your wealth at us peasants more, why don’t ‘ya? Hope you liked your tax cuts, you one-percenter.
Froemming: That is class warfare you dirty communist.
Anyway, we have already gone off the rails and we are not beyond the opening credits.
John is met at the airport by a limo driver named Argyle, and it is not clear if his wife arranged this or if he did or what? It must be an amazing feeling to be met at an airport by a person with a sign who is gonna put you in a limo. I’ve never experienced that, but I have to some day.
Brown: The limo came courtesy of Mr. Takagi. He tells John that when he finally reaches Nakatomi Plaza.
And with that, I’ll make one of the biggest points on why this movie is perfect: There’s never loose threads. Even something as simple as asking about who picked him up in the limo is covered.
The lack of shoes? He took them off to do the feet thing and bolted when the robbers showed up to the party. He tried to take one of their shoes but the guy had tiny feet. As someone with size 14s, I get that feeling. I don’t pick shoes at the store. I ask them to bring out whatever is in 14. I’ve worn a lot of New Balance in my life for that reason.
The limo ride (which John rides in the front because he’s not used to being pampered) explains the strain: Holly took a job in LA while John is an NYC cop. He didn’t think she’d last out there, but she excels, and 3,000 miles is going to put a strain on any relationship when neither wants to give up their job.
Froemming: I don’t know why we are talking about your feet now, I feel like with all this feet, we should be reviewing a Tarantino movie.
Well, if he took his shoes off on the plane I would understand, but at a Christmas party, even in his wife’s private bathroom, is still weird to me.
Brown: Don’t shun this movie because you’re all weird about feet. Plus, the guy never mentioned taking off his shoes ON the plane. He just said on carpet.
Froemming: Still (REDACTED) weird. Maybe you are OK flaunting your feet in public like this is the age of Aquarius, but I will never be OK with that.
Yes, Holly is doing well and John is still in NY because he is stubborn. And good old Argyle (Chekov’s Argyle) says that because John really doesn’t know where he is staying the night (depends on how well things go with Holly, but he has a retired cop buddy just in case living out there) he will sit in the limo and wait for John to see what the plan is.
Argyle sits in that limo all (REDACTED) night. That is dedication to what I’d imagine would be a real crappy job driving the LA freeway and streets all day.
Brown: Any job is great when you can just sit on your butt all day waiting for something to happen. It’s why I got into journalism.
Froemming: You and me both!
Brown: So John meets Mr. Takagi and our coked-up salesman Harry, who decides to A. try really hard to hit on a married woman, and B. do a line on her desk. In a movie with murderous German thieves, Harry is the sleaziest character of all.
Froemming: OK, if your boss walked in and saw you ripping a line of coke off a desk at work, you’d be fired right? Harry should be fired right then and there.
Brown: You’re not wrong, but this is the ‘80s. I’m surprised Takagi didn’t take a bump with him. That’s how Harry probably got paid.
People are drinking, some are snorting. One couple is trying to find a spot to have sex. And all the while, John and Holly continue to fight over their relationship. Holly gets dragged away to give a toast to the party which, by the way, happening on Christmas Eve.
While all this goes on, our baddies start making their way into the building. The Takagi party is where everyone still left at Nakatomi Plaza is at, so this pack of well-armed Germans, led by political terrorist Hans Gruber (Rickman) ends the fun with some machine guns and a hostage situation.
Froemming: I love how lax the security at Nakatomi Plaza is. John just walks in, and says his wife works there, even though she works there under her maiden name. And then these, well, they are not really terrorists, they are robbers posing as terrorists, just hit the elevator to the lobby and to the 30th floor to take over the building.
That desk guard McClane talked to was so dense, Hans could have told him the same thing and he would not be the wiser (granted, until the guns started blasting). What I am getting at is this place is comically easy to get into.
Brown: This takes place in a pre-9/11 world, man. The most security most places had would be a metal detector run by an agitated young adult compared to the near cavity search one has to get through to go into an airplane terminal nowadays.
Froemming: True, but Mr. Takagi has that safe with all that wealth in it. Sure, heavily sealed, but the first line of defense should be the doorman.
Also, Hans Gruber is probably (after Ledger’s Joker) my favorite movie villain. Dude is suave and insane, and even funny. The whole package for an on-screen antagonist. Evil beard too.
Now, these Germans (did we not learn anything after WWII) hijack everyone’s good time and demand Mr. Takagi to step forward.
Brown: Hey now…
Froemming: As this is going on, John McClane has taken off his shoes like he was raised in a barn in his wife’s private office and hears the gunfire, and hightails it to the stairwell, because the (REDACTED) has hit the fan. He has his gun with God-mode on it like in “Die Hard 2” where he rarely runs out of ammo (though this movie actually makes a point to limit his ammo at the end scene), his best wife-beater shirt and his endless supply of one-liners that made Bruce WIllis a star!
Brown: There’s a few times where people run out of ammo in this movie because this movie is perfect. There is so much attention to detail!
Froemming: Sure, like a NY cop allowed on a plane with a firearm and Argyle drinking in the limo, the limo he will be (presumably) driving a law enforcement agent in later? Or do we just chalk that up to “it was the ‘80s” like it is the Chewbacca Defense?
Brown: … Yeah, pretty much. If I was waiting in a limo with a stocked mini fridge waiting to find out if my client was going to get laid, yeah, I’ll (responsibly) tie one on.
Froemming: Let the record show Joe Brown condones drinking and driving.
Froemming: “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” made me this way. I’m forever changed, my friend.
So Hans finds out who among the crowd is Mr. Takagi and they take him to his office, where they demand his password to get into the vault. The old, rich man smugly laughs saying he doesn’t have it. He keeps insisting he cannot help them. This is when you, me and John McClane all learn a valuable lesson with dealing with Germans: They will kill you on a count to four demanding answers.
And Hans shoots the old man, whose demise looks like Gallagher smashed a watermelon with his mallot, and John realizes the situation is bad.
Brown: Yeah, a window looking like it got jammed like a radar in “Spaceballs” is a bad sign.
McClane gives away that he’s around when he bangs his head on a table after Takagi’s murder. With the phone lines cut, McClane tries to alert authorities by pulling the fire alarm. One of the robbers gets sent up to investigate since they have control of the computers and know what floor it came from (ATTENTION TO DETAILS!) and after a game of cat-and-mouse, McClane kills the small-footed gunman. And, he finds a way to both intimidate these “terrorists” while gaining some recon.
McClane puts the corpse in the elevator while rigging the elevator so he can get up and down the shaft. Sitting atop the elevator when the “terrorists” see the infamous “Now I have a machine gun” note, McClane is able to find out the main figures and approximately how many terrorists are in the area so he can tell the authorities if he can get in touch with them.
Froemming: All these rich yuppies and not one has a cellphone. Hell, Zack Morris — despite being trash — had one around this time. Buy maybe Harry, the one guy I would assume would own one, sold his to buy an eight-ball.
Well, John now has a radio at least, but the Germans have used their technology to block anything in the building out. Like the newsroom I work in, there is zero reception except the roof.
Brown: The fire alarm didn’t work so McClane uses the radio to alert them to something. The whole exchange with the police dispatch is hilarious and showcases another key point for this movie: How well they can lighten the tension with some of the comedy bits. In this early part of the movie alone, you have this dialogue. You have the parts where McClane oggles the naked girl calendar every time he walks through the hallway. Even the shots of Argyle being blissfully unaware of what’s going on all add levity to this movie where they could have just as easily made it a super serious, glum movie.
Also, after seeing the second “Die Hard,” how much better is it to see a Bruce Willis that actually gives a (REDACTED)?
Froemming: That was one of the things that really stuck out to me, because “Die Hard 2” we reviewed in September, so it is still kinda fresh in my head. Here we have an in-shape Willis who is giving it his best, and the second one we have Fat Bruce Willis hiding his gut with a Christmas sweater in the laziest sequel I have seen after “Home Alone 2: Lost in New York.”
So John calls the dispatchers, who just think it is a crank caller. On a radio. From a place where a fire alarm was just pulled. These women were definitely terrible at their jobs and are partly responsible for the deaths in Nakatomi Plaza that dark, dark Christmas in the 1980s.
But they do the minimum by calling a beat cop,
Carl Winslow from Chicago PD Sgt. Al Powell, who is buying a bunch of junk food he says is for his wife and the clerk kinda fat shames the poor son of a bitch. Not only does he have to deal with the shenanigans of Steve Urkle, and what is about to happen at Nakatomi Plaza, but he has this jerk to deal with.
He agrees to do a drive-by, and his life will be forever changed after.
Brown: I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t expecting Sgt. Powell to mention that weiner Urkle kid to John McClane during one of their radio calls.
Sgt. Powell is the right kind of guy to be McClane’s voice to the outside. They both are salt-of-the-earth badges who enjoy Twinkies (even if McClane had to eat a “thousand-year-old” one at one point) and Powell is a great foil to the higher-ups in the LAPD and the FBI throughout the movie. McClane and Sgt. Powell have way more chemistry than Bella and Edward in “Twilight” … or Bella and Jacob in “Twilight.”
Sgt. Powell gets dragged into this mess when, after his half-assed look at Nakatomi Plaza, McClane throws a corpse on his cop car, which causes one of the “terrorists” to start shooting.
I mean, if one call to the cops with machine gun fire wasn’t convincing enough, one involving a badge will certainly do the trick.
Froemming: Well, it does all right. The calvary arrives and Powell soon finds he has something worse than German robbers/terrorists to deal with:
Assistant Principal Vernon Dwayne T. Robinson, who is there to tell Hans Gruber that if he messes with the bull, he’s gonna get the horns.
Brown: This is the start of one of my favorite terrible action movie cliches: The “You’re not in charge anymore” bit.
And you know, after showing that he’s willing to get violent with Bender, I could totally see Vernon changing his career path to hot head cop. However, maybe it was the wrong force to join. The LAPD has never shown any proclivity to violence in the past…
Froemming: I mean, wasn’t this their defense in the Rodney King beating?
Anyway, to speed things along: Hans’ tech guy, Theo, is breaking into the vault while Hans and the gang keep the hostages calm. Hans just wants John trapped in the building, he really has no interest in getting into a war with this loose cannon, there is no money in that and it is a distraction from their goal.
But Hans’ goons, especially the brother of one of the robbers John murdered by falling on his neck, wants him dead. So we have more of that sort of cat-and-mouse going on.
And the police are making things worse. Vernon, still fuming from that door in the detention hall not staying open, has the LAPD try to break into the building. Which, of course, goes disastrously wrong for him. I mean, rocket-launchers-blowing-up-an-RV wrong.
We also have Hans on the line with Vernon demanding the release of revolutionaries he just makes up on the fly, which was hilarious.
These men are there for money. Turns out, Hans was ousted from the West German Volksfrei Movement and has become an international thief. Or something. I buy it I guess.
Brown: Take it away, Joker.
Police interference was inevitable. And for the robbery to go off without a hitch, Gruber uses the FBI playbook against them and breaks into the vault carrying bearer bonds thanks to the FBI cutting power in the building. In a less murdery way, Hans’ plan of using the rules of engagement against the authorities isn’t much different than Ted Bundy doing the same in the 70s because he had knowledge of how the system worked. Yes, Hans Gruber is serial killer brilliant. I mean, he was a professor at Hogwarts or something.
I’ll be honest, I never watched a Harry Potter movie and I get chewed out for it every few months.
Froemming: He was also an angel in “Dogma.”
Brown: Not just an angel. Metatron, the voice of God.
Froemming: I love Alan Rickman so much. Also, I ‘ve never seen a Potter movie either.
Well, the plan is now that the FBI, with Agents Johnson and Johnson (which is either lazy comedy or lazy writing, I can’t tell) decide to cut the power to the building, which plays right into Hans’ plan. A plan that includes the safe opening because the electricity is shut off. Even though there are emergency lights, the vault — for reasons — will open when the power is cut. Why is the vault also not connected to the emergency backup? I dunno, maybe because it has the seven-layer defense in front of the part that just opens up when a blackout occurs?
Brown: Yeah, the final electronic lock resets after a blackout. It wouldn’t normally matter because there’s six layers of security before that so the reset wouldn’t matter in a non-break in situation.
Froemming: But the point of a lock is to prevent a break-in situation…
Brown: Yeah… that’s why there’s seven layers.
Froemming: But the final one should be just as important as the seven layers…maybe even more…
Brown: Yeah, six locks are mechanical and one is controlled by the power grid. You have to shut down an entire block in order to break it open. Save for an exceptional thief that uses the FBI against them is going to do that in a random break-in? The circuit can’t be cut locally. It takes extraordinary circumstances to get this done.
Froemming: But that means they have to reset the lock every time there is a blackout, which in earthquake-prone California is pretty often.
Brown: Yeah, you cut the power, one layer opens at the very end. There’s still the matter of the other six locks. Again, you need extraordinary circumstances to pull this off. MOVE ON, FROEMMING! You won’t find a flaw in this movie.
Froemming: I am just saying this is a pretty bad lock, and it being the last one of all, probably should have its own power generator…you know, in case something like this happens.
Brown: Having a generator means the power could be cut on-site. You need the entire city block cut off in order to do it the way it is now. MOVE ON, FROEMMING!
Froemming: It is a pretty terrible security system. Any yahoo could break into it.
Anyway, now for the final part of the plan: Move the hostages to the roof and blow it up, causing the Feds to think the terrorists died too.
Umm. Look, they escape through the garage, but nobody is going to believe they are dead, they are going to say “crap, Hans killed all those people in a fiery inferno. Get an APB on him right away!” “But he blew up!” “Where is his body or teeth to identify him?” “Nowhere.”
But that is the plan, which buys Hans some time, I’ll give the plan that. But John knows something is up because even though all the bombs (to his knowledge) are gone, Hans still wants the detonator.
Brown: Would you trust the FBI to do the right thing? I mean, the Johnsons are on the chopper and one of them is having ‘Nam flashbacks with the helicopter gun. All that was missing was Pvt. Joker being offended while the gunner is yelling “GET SOME!”
Froemming: You sound like you should write for InfoWars…
Brown: All I’m saying is I think the people in Nakatomi Plaza could have been crisis actors.
While Hans starts to make preparations for the roof explosion, he runs into McClane. Because all Americas are the same, Hans tries speaking in a southern accent and says his name is Clay. Needing an ally, McClane buys it and hands him a gun, only for “Clay” to start speaking in German and pointing the gun at McClane. But, McClain didn’t load the gun. Inside that boorish man with a deeply-stained wife beater is a brilliant mind that is REALLY gonna regret not grabbing his shoes when Gruber’s men start shooting all the glass in the room.
Quick aside: In one of the strangest things I’ve ever seen in a video game, the “Die Hard” game on NES actually has a FOOT meter.
Froemming: Probably the only memorable thing of that game.
Brown: Yeah, it’s … not great.
Froemming: Well, McClane’s feet are all jacked up from the glass, the media has exposed John and Holly’s children to the world with the shadiest journalism I have seen in some time, Hans has Holly as bait/collateral and things are looking dour as the hostages are being led to the roof to their fiery demise.
But McClane, after a heart-to-heart with Powell, is going all-in, even if it means his life.
And we see our gun-toting G-men in the helicopter saying 25-30 percent loss of hostages is fine with them as they plan on shooting at the terrorists on the roof.
McClane, knowing the roof is rigged to blow, heads to the top of Nakatomi Plaza and gets the hostages to go back inside. Then the FBI start firing at him.
This is one (REDACTED) day for old John McClane.
Brown: I mean, it was worse for Mr. Takagi. But you’re right. Probably doesn’t help his cause when he starts wildly firing in the air.
Let’s not forget that there’s a pretty sweet fight between McClane and Karl, whose really out for blood after McClane killed his brother Tony (the first victim of McClain justice). Ultimately, Karl seems to meet his end when he’s hung via chain near the roof.
… That’s awfully gruesome.
There’s also the problem of Holly being figured out as John’s wife after TV reporter Richard Thornburg reveals Holly Gennero is actually Holly McClaine via an interview with the kids on live TV.
No wonder people hate what we do, Froemming. But you and I can agree: TV news is the worst. Buy your local newspaper, folks.
Froemming: Now we come to the final showdown between John McClane and Hans Gruber, which is a pretty great finale to the film.
John has only a few rounds left. He has to outsmart the German, who has proven his genius through the whole movie. John comes out with his machine gun, but is outgunned and out-numbered by Hans and some random goon. What follows is one of the best fakeouts in action movies and one of the strangest few seconds of awkward laughter in film history:
Brown: Maybe one JOE-DOWN movie has a better roof death scene, if only for how terrible it is.
Froemming: And, on Christmas Eve ringing in Christmas Day, Hans Gruber is dropped from Nakatomi Plaza like the ball in New York that brings in the New Year. This is a holiday tradition no German terrorist can ever take away from us.
The Germans are defeated, Holly punches a reporter, and the LAPD just lets John McClane, a man who took the law into his own hands and brutally murdered a bunch of people, walk away. Don’t worry, the PD will investigate itself to see if this cop did any wrong doing.
Brown: Don’t forget Argyle, who foiled the plan to sneak out of the building from the parking garage by crashing into the getaway vehicle!
Chekov would be proud.
Froemming: The vehicle only Theo would be using? Sure, he stopped that! Stayed in that limo for hours on end for no real reason, oblivious to the fact the gates came crashing down, but he was getting hammered in the back seat having a good time.
Brown: Yeah, until he saw the TV report saying what was going down right above his head. Then when his hero’s moment came, he took advantage.
Froemming: Why would he just sit in the limo for so long? Doesn’t he clock out at some time? Does he not have a social life? Why wait there for some guy he just met?
Brown: He was waiting for John McClane. Who cares how long it takes? He’s getting paid by a company CEO (though to be fair, that CEO is now dead). He does have a social life because he’s calling the ladies from the car’s cell phone while waiting for John McClane. And he’s waiting because it’s his job.
Froemming: He is just sitting there though. His job was done the moment he dropped John McClane off at Nakatomi Plaza. He is not getting paid for this.
Brown: We don’t know that. He could be getting paid to take the McClanes home later. Hell, he does it at the end of the movie. It’s not like he’s a taxi driver who needs to get a bunch of fares for the night.
Froemming: He knew nothing of another McClane, he was asking John about why he was going there. HIS JOB WAS FINISHED THE MOMENT HE DROPPED HIS CUSTOMER OFF.
Brown: His job was over when John McClane said his job was over.
Froemming: That is not how this works. THIS IS NOT HOW ANY OF THIS WORKS!
Brown: You are nitpicking really, really hard to try and find a flaw in a perfect movie.
Froemming: So many flaws in this movie. Argyle, the shoes, Hans plan to fake his death. All just really bad flaws. And don’t get me started again on the terrible security system in Takagi’s office for his safe.
Anyway, let’s leap off this review to recommendations.
WOULD YOU RECOMMEND?
Froemming: Yeah, it is a fun, highly flawed film, but worth a watch.
Brown: Yes. Perfect movie. I’ve made this clear.