The guards probably won't be piping Die Hard With a Vengeance into Timothy McVeigh's jail cell, but it might look awfully familiar to him if they did. As you might expect, the third installment of the Bruce Willis action series has but one dramatic goal--to blow things up--and even though it would be a mistake to take the issue of movie violence as seriously as a lot of neo-conservatives and bridge-club conversationalists do, you can't help feeling slightly queasy when subjected to this much explosive mayhem in the post-Oklahoma City era.

Willis and his employers at 20th Century Fox will probably have no such second thoughts. For them, the Murrah Building bombing is a kind of ironic bonus--a way of pointing out just how true-to-life movies can be, while ignoring the fact that a lot of nutjobs like McVeigh get their darkest ideas while sitting alone with a box of popcorn. Doubt that? Ten thousand cops may not know much yet about Okie City, but they do know the accused was fonder than most people of the 1993 mad bomber flick Blown Away.

Meanwhile, back at the box office, Willis is once again up to his sooty eyeballs in destruction. His sweaty, bloodied, hard-bitten police lieutenant, John McClane, finds himself in New York this time around, where a bomb-happy international villain named Simon (Jeremy Irons) is busy blowing up cars, subway trains, dump trucks, helicopters, ships and almost everything else that moves in the Big Apple. While leading his frantic pursuers from Wall Street to the Bronx with a series of tantalizing phone calls and outrageous demands, Simon also threatens to bomb an unnamed New York grammar school. In view of the number of children who died in Oklahoma, this is a particularly unfortunate plot device in a picture clearly aimed at the macho throngs.

Bruce needs a buddy, of course, and this time it's his old Pulp Fiction pal Samuel L. Jackson. The screenplay, by a former New York corporate lawyer named Jonathan Hensleigh, is no masterpiece of literacy (its smattering of dialogue comprises mostly four-letter expletives), and as far as I can see, Jackson's streetwise character, Zeus, exists for only two reasons--as an excuse to indulge a little mock race-baiting and so there's someone around at the end who knows how to pick the lock on a pair of handcuffs and thus save himself, and Our Hero, from certain incineration in Vengeance's umpteenth (and largest) bomb explosion.

As it turns out, Irons's clever, calculating Simon is a disaffected former East German who wants to "level the playing field" by relieving New York's Federal Reserve Bank of $114 billion in gold ingots, then buy his own country. Thus does Hensleigh introduce another idea that might appeal to the Timothy McVeighs of the world. But by the time any terrorist got done paying the tab for all the wrecked Mercedes-Benzes, vaporized subway stations and toppled office buildings in this incredibly loud and destructive movie, you might expect him to have just about enough left over for a slice of pizza and a schooner of beer. Indeed, Fox worried aloud when the 1990 sequel to the original Die Hard came in at $62 million--$20 million over budget. But U.S. ticket sales alone were more than $120 million. There's no reason to think Vengeance won't put up similar numbers--despite being sandwiched between fellow blockbusters Crimson Tide and Batman Forever.

Director John McTiernan is no stranger to such otherworldly sums--or to catastrophes filmed on the most grandiose scale. He made his debut with Predator, then did the original Die Hard, The Hunt for Red October and The Last Action Hero, a supposed Schwarzenegger fiasco that wound up grossing $175 million--mostly in foreign markets. So don't look for Mr. McTiernan to next turn out a nice little domestic comedy set in a two-room apartment in Brooklyn. His style is all howitzer shells, cranked-up Dolby and major conflagration.

Damn the budget, and damn that thing in Oklahoma. Die Hard With a Vengeance is here to kick ass.


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