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.
And then, after all that, which John McClane did by himself, with an almost comical amount of resistance from the top police official at the airport, Captain Carmine Lorenzo — Dennis Franz, himself — walks up to him and rips up the parking ticket he received at the beginning of the movie.
That’s it! That’s his big apology and thank you! John McClane saved hundreds of lives and killed a bunch of bad guys and altogether prevented a tragedy that probably saved his job, and Franz’s big token of appreciation is to let him out of a $35 fine. It’s perfect. Look at how happy he is. It’s like he really think this makes it all square.
Now now, I hear you. You’re saying, “But if all he does is be a grouchy jerk for 105 minutes and then crash his car and rip up a ticket, how is this the best holiday redemption story?” Well, look at it this way. What did the other characters we talked about in the beginning learn? Scrooge learned not to be a greedy old hermit, which is great for his employees and any charity he supports going forward, but he’s so old that he only has a limited time to undo all the wrong he committed in his life. The Grinch, as far as I can tell, learned not to rob people who sing too much, which is a nice lesson but not necessarily one that will be super useful going forward. And the characters in the Hallmark movies learned… I don’t actually know what they learned. Getting stranded is good? Jobs are bad? I’ve never been super clear on what’s happening there.
Dennis Franz’ character, on the other hand, learned an important, useful lesson: If a hero cop shows up at your airport, and kills a guy in the luggage area, and tells you it’s part of a bigger terrorist scheme, and tries to help solve the case by getting into numerous gunfights and shoving an icicle through a bad guy’s eye, well, maybe you should listen to him and try to help, or at the very least don’t yell at him a bunch and threaten to have him arrested on Christmas Eve.
If that’s not the reason for the season, then buddy, I don’t know what is.