Friday, August 3, 2012

COUNTDOWN TO EXPENDABLES 2: DIE HARD 2 (*Special Guest Blogger: Chris Funderburg*)

For the first time in PINNLAND EMPIRE history I've invited guest writers to contribute to the site. The first half of this month is Expendables month and I've invited some other great writers to share some of their favorite Expendables-related movies with you all. Who better to go first than Pink Smoker: Chris Funderberg? His writings on The White Ribbon & Miami Blues as well as his recent 81 greatest movie titles are just a few reasons to love The Pink Smoke and why I'm always honored to contribute to the site whenever I'm asked.


Oh, Die Hard 2: Die Harder – what can be said about this film that hasn’t already been said in every sheepish defense of Renny Harlin’s career? One thing on which I think we can all agree is that Die Hard 2 is truly the Die Hard of Die Hard sequels. Certainly, it deserves respect for its willingness to embrace its unfathomable subtitle, a gibberish phrase that embodies Hollywood’s turn of decade devotion to a more insane, abstract concept of action film awesomeness –the film and the phrase represent an almost koan-like and spiritual dedication to paring of “awesomeness” down to its aesthetic components and tossing aside worldly considerations like intelligibility or humility. Action films in those ruthless days were, as Godard said of Bergman, not wont to pretend to shame. To Die Harder, one must embrace an existential state of “awesomeness;” a state in which Bruce Willis is willing to bite off and spit out a chunk of William Saddler’s leg and use an icicle as an eye-gouging stiletto. Dying Harder means willful entry into a world of breathless plot movement, grotesque savagery, sleazy double-crosses and the quivering jowls of Fred Thompson. The simple, elegant plot follows a retired police detective who discovers a terrorist scheme perpetrated by former special ops soldiers who intend to rescue a notorious South American drug lord/dictator (played by noted Italian sexpot Franco Nero) from his upcoming imprisonment in the U.S. by holding an entire airport hostage and forcing it to land a plane containing the drug lord in abandoned hanger and then give them another plane in which to escape. Simple enough, right? Perhaps sensing their plot needed some pizzazz, the conceptual team behind the artwork added the intriguing element of another special ops force sent in to contend with the airport-jackers who turn out to also be in on the scheme and using blanks in their gun-fights with the terrorist group in order to give the appearance that they’re not in on the plot. At one point the retired cop dives off of a snow-mobile as it flies over a tractor-trailer truck and explodes in mid-air. If we can say anything of Die Hard 2, we can say only that it is a pure expression of action film spectacle in an era devoted to the purity of action film spectacle divorced from modesty, a sharpened blade of the genre’s internal logic wielded by a maniac who apparently despises the media for some reason.

Honestly, the only complaint I have against the film – and truthfully I prefer to treat it as a mystery rather than a flaw – is the inordinate amount of time spent on a subplot in which a scurrilous reporter played by William Atherton, the man with no dick from Ghostbusters, is once again subjected to dick insults by the retired cop’s wife, a poofy-haired Bonnie Bedelia. The series of zingers are not on the level with Bill Murray’s aforementioned quip, really they just boil down to people calling him “Dick” - which happens to be his name, but also has a devastating double-meaning. He somehow does something inappropriate – I believe he asks for a pillow? – and the stewardesses hate him and give Bedelia free champagne because she once punched him in the face and he now has a restraining order against her. None of the flight crew seemed overly concerned that they are in violation of the court order to keep her separate from her victim. Most appallingly, Atherton’s fears turns out to be well-founded: due to the crew’s negligence, she is once again able to assault him, this time shocking him with a 5,000 volt stun-gun acquired from a little old lady on the plane. They should all lose their jobs for allowing the stun-gun to make it onto the flight; their laughing reaction to Atherton’s further basement surely means they their union contracts will be terminated without residual benefits. But what is the artist’s point in this cruel and insistent depiction of the media as scorn-worthy buffoons? That hostages on planes in danger of crashing should just shut their fucking mouths? That women should be allowed to punch whoever they want? That the media is somehow making the situation worse by wanting to ascertain the truth and alert the general public to a massive terrorist scheme in which their loved ones are potentially involved? No, Atherton is guilty of caring about his career. Like a dad that misses his son’s big baseball game in order to go to a meeting, Atherton has surrendered his fundamental humanity by being excited to break what would surely be the story of the century. Jerk. Now I’m happy someone shocked him with a weapon commonly believed to be the cause of the disgusting uptick in the unexpected sudden death per arrest rate of police forces around the country? Get this woman champagne! Also, there’s another female t.v. reporter in the film and Bruce is pretty hard on her even though she doesn’t do anything wrong. She just wants to talk to somebody about the drug lord/dictator. That’s legit, right?

Anyhoo, Die Hard might be fueled by excess and absurdity, but the film plays, as they say. For sure, it plays to 12 year-old boys of all ages and I can’t imagine what complaints anybody could have against it. It features both John Leguizamo and Robert Patrick in tiny roles as Saddler’s henchmen – and as Above the Law proved, tiny nearly invisible cameos by John Leguizamo are the hallmark of a pretty good, decidedly not great action film starring a late 80’s/early 90’s action movie icon a la Bruce or Seagal. I think if you drill right down into, the only meaningful problem with Die Hard 2: Die Harder is that it is the sequel to Die Hard. To this day, Die Hard constitutes the platonic ideal of American Action Cinema. It is the form to which the genre naturally aspires – if not deformed by their creators and other interference, every Hollywood Action Blockbuster would naturally become Die Hard, so harmonious is its configuration. It’s only the rotten ideas of men and the vanity of artists that prevents every Action Film artwork from achieving this absolute. Die Hard 2 is not the ideal, it is the baroque mirror of an ideal and, thus, suffers in comparison. It reflects its predecessor but distorts the purity of the original – many find the result to be garish, but I believe that it attains its own peculiar beauty. The difference between Die Hard and Die Hard 2: Die Harder is what separates Raphael’s Alba Madonna from Georg Grosz’ Methusalem or, if you’d prefer to be more literal about it, DaVinci’s Mona Lisa from Botero’s Mona Lisa. In terms of the latter artworks, I happen to appreciate both the evocative, subtle original and the big fat, fatty-fat-fat grotesquery. It should be noted, that the grotesquerie cannot exist without the original and it wouldn’t be unreasonable to consider the twisted distortions bourn of imitation to merely be another facet of the original artwork: that is, Die Hard 2 and its leg-biting, Leguizamo-slaughtering, Art Evans-showcasing insanity would not exist without the beautiful truth that is Die Hard – it cannot be separated, as the child is of the man. To celebrate Die Hard 2: Die Harder is in some circuitous way a celebration of the original’s perfection, not an insult to it. It is a shameless abstraction of the awesomeness of the original. It doesn’t matter whether you believe the same shit could happen to the same guy. My professional advice? Watch both films at Christmas with your loved ones. Dads, in particular, love that shit.

-Chris Funderberg

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