Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Die Hard

Nothing Lasts Forever [1979]
Written by Roderick Thorp

Die Hard [1988]
Written by Jeb Stuart and Steven E. de Souza
Directed by John McTiernan

Reading Roderick Thorp's Nothing Lasts Forever really demonstrates how likable the characters in Die Hard are. First, you have Bruce Willis as John McClane. He can be a smartass, but he really cares for his wife and kids. That outer shell of sarcasm (and later blood and soot) cover a surprisingly loving guy. Bonny Bedelia's Holly McClane is equally tough as nails and equally vulnerable. Even the villains are charismatic. On paper, Alan Rickman's Hans Gruber is one of the coldest, most calculating baddies of 80s action cinema. He is calmly orchestrating the murder of a good score of people so that he can pull off the heist of the century. But he's so damn suave. And he's not prone to any sort of delusions; he may play the freedom fighter for the cameras, but he really couldn't give a toss about the Asian Dawn Movement. He wants his detonators so he can get the six million dollars worth of verabonds in the vault.

Nobody in Thorp's novel is so involving. The protagonist is Joseph Leland, perhaps the crankiest ex-cop in history. Imagine Andy Rooney at his least pleasant, then toss in a healthy dash of intergenerational friction and you'd be getting closer. Season with a good dose of hypocritical self-pity and a dash of self-piety and you've got our "hero." Ol' Leland is part of the Greatest Generation, and damn it if these young kids with their computers and their drugs and their mass media haven't begun to destroy society. Things just aren't like they were! Sure, he was an alcoholic, but his daughter Stephanie (and by extension everyone under forty) keeps fucking things up so much they make him look like a saint.

And let's not get started with these terrorists. They're all one-dimensional caricatures of Eurotrash scum, middle class kids who want to play liberator to mask they're innate bloodlust. Though they play at extreme leftist politics (a galling game at that!), they don't really have a cause. They're just bored and European...and thus decide to kill capitalist industrialists. Of course those guys are jerks, too. Instead of the Nakatomi Corporation we have the Klaxxon Oil Company, which has just brokered a deal with the oppressive government of Chile. So when Gruber whacks Rivers (the Takagi surrogate), you really can't feel all that bad. It's like if someone killed the head of Haliburton. No love lost.

Much of this reactionary claptrap could be ignored if the story had any sort of momentum. One of the reasons that the film still holds up is because it's exciting. The novel's narrative is extremely patchy. Each action sequence is followed by Leland's self-serving ramblings about his broken marriages and what a fuck-up Stephanie is and how he was an alcoholic and blah, blah, blah. For someone fighting for his life, Leland devotes a lot of time and energy to extraneous bitching, none of which makes getting through this short book any more enjoyable.

Thorp has no problem with throwing people he doesn't like to the lions. Both Stephanie (the Holly McClane character) and Deputy Police Chief Dwayne Robinson are given fairly ignominious deaths. But that's OK, 'cause neither character was as wonderful a person as Leleand. I mean, sure, he was an alcoholic and he has a terrible marriage track record and he didn't really do a great job of raising his daughter, etc. (We were reminded of all these facts about fifty times throughout the narrative at seemingly regular intervals.) But everyone else is part of these newfangled times and thus are essentially interchangeably corrupt and expendable. But thinking that other people are expendable is part of this crazy modern philosophy that's turning the world into a giant Los Angeles (the horror!).

There's a major difference between a flawed protagonist and an asshole. John McClane is the former, Joe Leland is the latter. I simply can't recommend Nothing Lasts Forever. If I weren't reading it for this blog, I would have chucked the poorly written little time-waster after about the first fifty pages (and that's being generous). Stick with the movie. Whenever I see Bruce Willis in schlock like Breakfast of Champions (the worst film ever made) or Grindhouse (a blasphemy unto the hallowed name of trash cinema), I like to re-watch Die Hard and remind myself that he can be a good actor if given a decent part.

However, I gotta admit that my colon clenches at the thought of this summer's Live Free or Die Hard. So much for nothing lasting forever, eh?

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