Redemption stories are big around the holidays. You’ve got Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, who becomes kind and generous after what is either a string of Christmas Eve night terrors or what most reasonable mental health professionals would categorize as a psychotic break. You’ve got the Grinch in How the Grinch Stole Christmas, whose heart almost explodes during a near-death experience on a mountain and who then follows that cardiac episode by eating a feast that includes a full plate of red meat. And you’ve got every single main character in every single Hallmark Christmas movie, a solid 85 percent of whom are high-powered Manhattan marketing executives who get stranded in a small town and catch the holiday spirit from the sweet bumpkins therein.
None of those are the best holiday redemption story, though, because there can be only one “best” holiday redemption story, and that belongs to Dennis Franz’s character in Die Hard 2.
Die Hard 2, in summary: It is Christmas Eve, one year after the events at Nakatomi Plaza from the original. John McClane is at Dulles International Airport in Washington, D.C. waiting for his wife’s plane to land. He notices something amiss in the terminal bing bang boom he kills a guy in the luggage area after a shootout, and he then finds out the guy was working with a rogue American colonel who is organizing an attack slash airborne hostage situation in the hopes of liberating a deposed Central American general slash drug dealer who is paying a handsome fee for his freedom. There are like six shootouts after that. John McClane kills a guy by slamming an icicle into his skull through his eyeball. He saves the day, covered in his own blood and surrounded by fire on a runway. The end.
But the best part of Die Hard 2 — narrowly edging out that icicle thing and the fact that Bruce Willis spends the whole movie running around an airport smoking a cigarette and carrying a gun, because, oh, hello 1990 — is that neither the traitorous colonel or the narcotics-dealing dictator are John McClane’s primary adversary for the first two acts of the movie. His primary adversary is Captain Carmine Lorenzo, the airport’s top cop, who hates John McClane like poison for reasons that are never fully articulated beyond an implied “Ayyy I got an airport to run here!”
Ladies and gentlemen, enter Dennis Franz.
Did you watch that video? You really should if you didn’t, even if you’ve already seen Die Hard 2. Even if you just watched it yesterday. You owe it to yourself. Really soak it in. Because here are some things that happen during that scene:
- A police officer comes into his office to inform him that professional mercenaries have attacked the airport, and one of them was killed in a shootout in the luggage area, and he proceeds to dismiss all discussion about investigating the matter because, among other things, he has a reindeer coming in from a petting zoo, and he can’t afford the hassle. Please especially note the part around the one-minute mark where he more or less yada yadas his way through his investigation technique. (“We’re gonna dust it down, we’ll take all the pictures, we’ll, uh, sweep for fibers.”) No one has ever cared less about a murder in a crowded airport.
- He does all this despite knowing who John McClane is, which he reveals by saying “Yeah yeah, I know all about you and the Nakatomi thing.” This makes everything his character does so much better, because he knows he’s dealing with a famous hero cop who single-handedly took down terrorists one year earlier, and he still refuses to believe anything McClane says and repeatedly threatens to arrest him. What an asshole. He’s the best.
- The thing at the end where he throws McClane out of his office and McClane says, “Hey Carmine, lemme ask you something. What sets off the metal detectors first, the lead in your ass or the sh*t in your brains?” It took me a few watches to realize that by “the sh*t,” John McClane meant “more lead.” Because as written and delivered it sounds a little like John McClane is implying he has some sort of metallic poop inside his head. Make your insults clear, people.
The next hour or so of the movie can basically be summarized like this: John McClane is right about everything but Dennis Franz doesn’t care and hates him so much. It… it’s probably best explained in a series of context-free screencaps in which Dennis Franz is livid and/or making funny faces. Yes, let’s do that. Here he is using various synonyms for “loose cannon”…
… and here he refusing to listen to John McClane despite mountains of evidence telling him he should…
… and here he is threatening to have John McClane arrested.
All of which brings us to his big redemption. Eventually, finally, after about three dozen examples of McClane being right and one double-cross by a throat-slitting John Amos, Franz decides McClane is okay and they try to rush off to prevent the general from escaping. This lasts about 30 seconds because Franz crashes his cop car into a taxi. So John McClane runs off and thwarts the bad guys by himself anyway, through a plan that involves leaping from a news helicopter onto the wing of a speeding jumbo jet, getting in two fistfights on said wing, and releasing all the fuel and then igniting it with a Zippo after tumbling to the ground, causing both a mid-air explosion that kills all the bad guys and a strip of fire on the runway that other circling planes can follow to land before running out of fuel, because that was also something that happened in Die Hard 2.