A friend of mine once posed a question: How does Bruce Willis get to keep making movies? It’s a fair question when one looks at Willis’ filmography: LOOK WHO’S TALKING TOO, THE BONFIRE OF THE VANITIES, HUDSON HAWK, BILLY BATHGATE, DEATH BECOMES HER, NORTH, BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS, GRINDHOUSE. Those aren’t all bad movies, but they were all unmitigated commercial fiascos, and cumulatively probably cost hundreds – maybe thousands – of people their jobs. Yet Bruce Willis has remained a constant for the past three decades: a world without Bruce Willis actioners is today as unimaginable as a world without romantic comedies, or movies based on vaguely remembered toy properties. But how does one explain Willis’ staying power, in spite of all financial evidence?
The answer can be easily found by watching Willis’ breakout role in 1988’s DIE HARD. For all the explosions and window-smashing and yippie-ki-yay-motherfuckering, the soul of the film can be found in the scenes where Willis’ John McClane makes small talk with the fellow passengers on his plane, or tries to patch things up with his estranged wife, or just walks around muttering about the shit he has to deal with. Like the late Robin Williams, Willis tends to imbue his roles with improvised, self-deprecating monologue. Indeed, the FIFTH ELEMENT drinking game demands the viewer take a drink every time Willis “mutters to himself or otherwise says something that is not directed at a person or cat,” a strategy sure to get one plastered long before the autotuned tentacle-headed space diva musical number (this has been your daily reminder that THE FIFTH ELEMENT is awesome). The bottom line is that Willis is just likable; he’s the unkillable superman you could have a beer with. It’s that combination of schlub and ubermensch that keeps people coming back even after all the flops.
It also helps to make DIE HARD and its sequels unlikely seasonal favorites. As I’ve previously mused, DIE HARD is perhaps the most visible example of the odd trend of Christmas-set shoot-em-ups from the golden age of the blockbuster. Whatever the reason, these slices of yuletide mayhem have given generations a refreshing break from the relentless onslaught of holiday cheer. Santa can keep the chimney; John McClane will take the window.
DIE HARD (1988) dir. by John McTiernan [131 min.]
Tuesday, December 23, 7:00 PM
DIE HARD 2 (1990) dir. Renny Harlin [124 min.]
Tuesday, December 23, 9:45 PM
40 Brattle St.
Cambridge, MA 02138
$10 each ($12 for double feature)