I'd had enough of Bruce Willis long ago in Moonlighting: I couldn't shake the feeling that he was riding on Bill Murray's coattails--the American cool wiseguy jerk, the smug pest you tried your best not to like, the seat-of-his-pants friend/lover improvising as he goes along. Bill I liked; Bruce made me uneasy--maybe it's because Bill winked at us, knew he was playing a self-satisfied frat boy--which skewered the jerk, while Bruce seemed more aggressive, almost daring us to get the joke more than he did.
Or maybe it was just because he was bothering Cybill Shepherd. Knock it off, chief.
But something happened--to me, maybe, but definitely to Bruce. Just like his rock star alter ego Bruno, Willis once more attempts parody in Die Hard, yanking the cool cat action hero's tail, at once rolling his eyes that he's in a big-budget bang-bang-em-up and wincing from how much it hurts to be at the heart of such a movie, all that shattered glass and sudden drops, gun-butts and haymakers to the jaw. The longer the movie went on, the wearier John became, wincing and limping, a wreck barely on his feet--powered, of course, by the jet fuel of a summer blockbuster, but as torn up as the Hulk's wardrobe after he gets angry.
With one movie Willis saves himself from terminal cute and shoulders past the bigger boys--and not just Stallone and Schwarzenegger, but the tough guys of yore, Mitchum and Lancaster, who took a beating but kept their hats on straight--until somehow Willis reaches a popcorn-matinee approximation of Brando in On the Waterfront, who literally loses his shirt before winning. Yes, there's a hint of Rocky Balboa in Bruce's bloody-but-unbowed stance--but in Die Hard there's little at stake inside, just fireballs all around. I'll admit that the postmodern cowboy impatient with European villains and cracking wise every five minutes got on my nerves a little; but I'm willing to turn a deaf ear as long as Bruce admits it hurts to laugh.