By Matt Singer | Criticwire March 18, 2013 at 10:03AM
Every week, Criticwire asks film critics a question and brings you their responses in The Criticwire Survey. We also ask each member of the poll to pick the best film currently playing in theaters. The most popular choices can be found at the bottom of this post. But first, this week's question:
Q: Inspired by the new film "Olympus Has Fallen" -- a.k.a. "Die Hard" in the White House -- what is your favorite "Die Hard" knock-off?
The critics' answers:
"My favorite 'Die Hard' knock-off is 'The Raid: Redemption.' Even within the confines of a building, it manages to kick more ass than any Hollywood action film."
"There is only one correct answer: 'Sudden Death,' starring Jean-Claude van Damme and directed by Peter Hyams (Stanley Kubrick's cinematographer)! Terrorists take hostage the Vice President's box at the seventh game of the Stanley Cup finals -- without the knowledge of the fans in attendance! -- with only washed-up firefighter and former hockey player JCVD to save them! Powers Boothe as the villain! A fight scene against a terrorist dressed as the Pittsburgh Penguins mascot! The only 'Die Hard' ripoff deserving of this many exclamation points! Honorable mention to Joss Whedon's unproduced screenplay 'Suspension,' which is 'Die Hard' on New York's George Washington Bridge. Written in the pre-'Buffy' days and sold for $1 million in 1993, it's probably too expensive to ever make, but admirable for its ambition. It's floating around the Net and should be read by all aspiring screenwriters."
"Ha! I actually wrote a piece about this last year!"
"'Moonrise Kingdom' is by far my favorite 'Die Hard' knock-off. Bruce Willis as the Island of New Penzance's local sheriff Captain Sharp seems to elegantly make a theme of his status as newcomer in the Wes Anderson universe, by admitting that he doesn't understand what is going on at the start of the film, and later, by rounding up little boy scouts from Troop 55 Camp Ivanhoe for his search mission: 'Until help arrives, I'm deputizing the little guy, the skinny one and the boy with the patch on his eye.'"
"Any answer other than 'Speed' is simply incorrect -- look at how much of it has entered the pop-culture lexicon versus any other 'Die Hard' wannabe -- but I also have a fondness for Van Damme's 'Die-Hard'-in-a-hockey-arena flick 'Sudden Death.' Because Van Damme fighting a mascot, amirite?"
"'Air Force One.' It’s not only the best 'Die Hard'-esque movie, just barely besting 'Speed,' but it’s Harrison Ford’s last good-to-great movie. The movie may best be known now for its admittedly hokey but fun kiss-off line, but it’s a solid action film from Wolfgang Petersen, a director who needs to get back in the business, pronto. Plus, Gary Oldman in one of his more restrained villainous roles, and Glenn Close as a harried Vice President. What’s not to love?"
"My favorite 'Die Hard' ripoff? Puck yeah! That would be 1995's 'Sudden Death' starring Jean-Claude Van Damme. JCVD plays an ex-fireman who happens to be at the stadium when terrorists take hostages during the Stanley Cup playoffs. It's bizarre, ambitious, and was apparently originally written as a comedy. Of course, that last tidbit seems entirely logical when viewing the fight between Jean-Claude Van Damme and a giant penguin."
"It's a little reductive to call 'Speed' 'Die Hard' on a bus, but it's undeniably been called that over the years, so it's enough reason to cheat and go with it. Keanu Reeves' character in that film is so different from John McClane, though, that it barely seems fair -- McClane is caught in these circumstances against his will and uses the strengths of the building he's in against the bad guys, while Reeves (does anyone even remember the character's name?) jumps on to the bus like some hero and is, well, stuck on a bus. An amazing bus, but no Nakatomi Plaza."
"The French action thriller 'Sleepless Night' is the correct answer. Imagine 'Die Hard' and a touch of 'Collateral.' See it now on Netflix Instant."
"I have not seen this picture, but 'No Contest' sounds amazing, as it's 'Die Hard' at a beauty contest, with Shannon Tweed as Bruce Willis. Andrew Dice Clay ('Blue Jasmine') is Alan Rickman and Robert Davi -- who actually was in 'Die Hard' -- is, it looks like, Reginald VelJohnson. Oh, and Roddy Piper plays someone named 'Ice.' Directed by Paul Lynch, who directed the original 'Prom Night' as well as 'No Contest II,' in which Tweed goes up against Lance Henriksen (of course)."
"There are so many great choices here. We have non-'Die Hard 2' 'Die Hard' ripoffs on a plane ('Passenger 57,' 'Executive Decision,' 'Air Force One'), 'Die Hard' on a battleship ('Under Siege'), 'Die Hard' during the Stanley Cup ('Sudden Death'), 'Die Hard on a mountain ('Cliffhanger'), 'Die Hard' in space ('Lockout'), the two 'Die Hard' in apartment complex films of last year, 'Dredd' and 'The Raid: Redemption' and that's not even taking the sequels of these films into account. But the best non-'Die Hard' movie takes place in the smallest of these settings, and that would be 'Die Hard' on a bus; 'Speed.' 'Speed' succeeds at serving suspense at a pretty intense pace and Dennis Hopper plays a more maniacal villain than any of these other rip-offs can boast."
"My favorite 'Die Hard' knock-off -- by a country mile -- is 'Speed.' Jan de Bont's 1994 thriller is 'Die Hard' on a bus, and it also contains a near-perfect mix of non-stop excitement, intense action, and reasonable plausibility. But the real reason 'Speed' is my pick is that I've long believed it offers something no other 'Die Hard'-esque movie has ever delivered: romance. Yep, I think 'Speed' is one of the most genuinely romantic movies ever made. Think about it. Keanu Reeves plays a no-nonsense cop. When he first hears about the bus that's equipped with a bomb that will detonate if it drops below 50 MPH, it's just a routine assignment for him. Then he gets himself on that speeding bus and meets Sandra Bullock. She's cute, spunky, and sweet. He feels a connection to her. Ah, but if the bus blows up, he'll never get the chance to explore this avenue and see where it might lead. Maybe she's 'the one,' you know? When you meet someone who might be 'the one,' you can't let her slip away, especially at the hands of a deranged and probably unloved lunatic like Dennis Hopper. Keanu knows this, and it fuels his determination. He executes a series of risky maneuvers to get Sandy -- and all those other nondescript passengers -- off that bus. But then Hopper takes Sandy hostage and handcuffs her to the inside of a subway train. At this point, Keanu could easily say, 'Whoa, this chick is too high maintenance,' and walk away. But he doesn't because his heart won't let him! He rescues her again! After killing Hopper, he discovers that the train's brakes have been cut. The only way to get off is to derail the thing, which he plans to do by having it go full speed around a bend. The gambit works, and in the final moments, Keanu and Sandy slide down a city street on a piece of metal torn from the train. They gaze longingly into each other's eyes and passionately kiss. The whole ordeal was worthwhile! It's true love! Swoon! Oh sure, if you believe that piece of crap 'Speed 2: Cruise Control,' Sandy and Keanu don't live happily ever after, and she ends up with Jason 'Mr. Bland' Patric. Let's be honest, though; that sequel shouldn't exist, so I'm going to pretend it doesn't. In my world, Keanu and Sandy spent the rest of their lives enjoying the most amazing romance ever known to mankind. Um, have I digressed from the question a little bit?"
"Frederic Jarden's 'Sleepless Night,' informally known as 'Arthouse Die Hard,' is also 'Die Hard' In A Nightclub. It's one of the most exhilarating action films in years."
"Though I almost decided to make the case that every 'Die Hard' sequel up until this last one is just a mediocre yet fun knock-off of the original, I decided to move away from the franchise and cite last year's 'The Raid: Redemption.' The tone may be way different, but we have a supposedly overmatched cop in a tall building sneakily fighting his way to the criminal mastermind, all the while concerned about saving someone close to him. That's good enough for me."
"Gotta be 'Speed.' It's the rare 'Die Hard' formula, 'Die Hard' on a bus, that added a new spin in the ticking clock of the bomb. It also helps that Jan de Bont's direction is so much fun and Reeves and Bullock have fun with their roles."
"How about 'Die Hard' in a school? 1991's 'Toy Soldiers' arrived before 'Cliffhanger,' 'Under Siege,' 'Sudden Death' and many other McClane wannabes. I also recall it being very enjoyable, with a fun sense of its own ridiculousness. Something a number of those imitators failed to gasp."
"'Sleepless Night' is the only and best option these days. A struggling single father and dirty cop -- oh who am I kidding, as if this hasn't shown up earlier in the list. 'Night' takes the theme of 'Die Hard' escalation and keeps it growing from multiple plots, fake-out endings and Tomer Sisley's desperate trek through a dance floor. 'Night' manages to take the McTiernan model for 'Die Hard' and deliver it at half the time (82 min to 131). Probably one of the best 'sleepers' at Tribeca 2012."
"'The White Ribbon:' It's 'Die Hard' in a German village before WWI, without the siege or the gonzo hero or the whatnot!"
"In a similar vein to 'Olympus Has Fallen,' actually, my favorite 'Die Hard' knock-off is Wolfgang Petersen's 'Air Force One,' starring Harrison Ford. It's basically 'Die Hard' on a plane, but what sets it apart, especially from the two new presidential crisis films coming out this year, is that the President himself, played by Ford, gets to be the one doing the ass-kicking. Throw in some sharp action directing and great villainous turn by Gary Oldman and you have a great, 'Die Hard'-esque action classic."
"'Die Hard' in an New York apartment: 'Rear Window.'"
"'Speed,' a.k.a. 'Die Hard' on a bus may be my favorite knock-off. Like 'Die Hard,' it's silly, explosive, and fun."
"My favorite official 'Die Hard' sequel is 'With a Vengeance,' which pinches at least as much from 'Dirty Harry' and 'Lethal Weapon' as it does from the original 'Die Hard.' In the '90s, the likes of Premiere and Entertainment Weekly applied the 'Die Hard'-in-a-X plot formula descriptor far more widely than obvious ripoffs like 'Under Siege' and 'Passenger 57.' For a few years any action film wherein the hero and villain were in regular contact with one another by phone or radio was branded a 'Die Hard' knockoff. I remember seeing the Wolgang Petersen-directed-but-c'mon-it's-an-Eastwood film 'In the Line of Fire' called 'Die Hard' on the campaign trail. That's crazy talk, but I remember 'In the Line of Fire' fondly, so I'm picking that one."
"Does 'Lockout' count as a 'Die Hard' rip? Watching Guy Pearce play a badass was one of my favorite guilty pleasures of the past few years. Who else could play Bruce Willis and Basil Exposition in one man: 'Don't get me wrong. It's a dream vacation. I mean, I load up. I go into space. I get inside the maximum-security nuthouse. Save the President's daughter, if she's not dead already. Get past all the psychos who've just woken up. I'm thrilled that you would think of me.'"
"I'm going with 'Speed.'"
"'Under Siege.' Steven Seagal as a cook, Tommy Lee Jones as a bandana wearing terrorist, and Gary Busey in drag, how could this not be the best knock-off?"
"'Lockout' with Guy Pearce completely struck me with it's wise-cracking hero a la John McClane. Totally unbelievable and ridiculous, it's just a fun ride."
"'Speed.' There's a purity to the roller coaster construction, consistently inventive situations and breathless pacing of Jan De Bont's 'Die Hard' on a bus that thrills the heck of out of me no matter how many times I've seen it; plus, the late Dennis Hopper is a hoot in it. It's a perfect action movie, in its own way."
"Gonna go with 'Under Siege,' about the only decent movie Steven Seagal ever made (OK, this and 'Executive Decision'), because it very effectively succeeds where so many action movies fail -- we always know where the characters are in relation to each other, no mean feat in a movie that's set on an aircraft carrier. It also helps that Tommy Lee Jones' villain is so nasty in that Tommy Lee Jones kind of way."
"Of course I'd have to go with 'Lockout' which I called ''Die Hard' Meets 'Blade Runner'' on the DVD cover."
"As stupid as some of its elements are in retrospect, the best 'Die Hard'-on-a-_______ movie has to be 'Speed,' which takes things onto a bus with a bomb that can't drop below 50 mph or a madman is going to blow it and everyone on it sky high. It takes something uniquely fun to get you to suspend disbelief that a commercial bus can jump a 50 ft. gap simply by hitting the edge at top speed, but whether it's the regular qualities of Keanu Reeves, the likability of Sandra Bullock, the insanity of Dennis Hopper, the added personality of Jeff Daniels or the ability of Jan de Bont to actually create some sort of rules and stakes for the premise, 'Speed' really does have a lot going for it, including that intense set piece of sending someone underneath the bus to check on the explosives. It was a hell of a lot of fun when it first came out, and revisiting it in the last year, it still is a hell of a lot of fun now."
"I think I would have to go with 'The Rock,' a.k.a. 'Die Hard' at Alcatraz. I'm a huge Nicolas Cage and I love his chemistry with Sean Connery and the movie, kind of miraculously, strikes a perfectly balance between earnestness and over-the-top silliness. The result is genuinely exciting action with pretensions."
"'Die Hard 2.'"
"'Con Air,' a.k.a. 'Die Hard' on a Prisoner Transport. Like so many 'Die Hard' knockoffs, 'Con Air' knows the steps but not the rhythm, dumping in some of the same plot points (estranged father/Working Class Hero, confined space) but opting for less coherent action and movement. Even so, the sheer absurdity of this film, propelled by Nic Cage's slack-jawed wig stand and John Malkovich's scenery-chewing makes it the most endlessly watchable of the many riffs on McTiernan's movie."
"'I'm just a lowly, lowly cook' says Steven Seagal in his last modest moment. 'Under Siege' delivers laughs and thrills both smart and low-brow, and it has zippy camera movement that lets the action flow sensationally. Pop-in Playboy Playmate Erika Eleniak and you've got a terrific token babe. Tommy Lee Jones was rarely more manic outside of an Oliver Stone picture. Terrific times, better than the last three 'Die Hard's themselves."
"'Speed,' because it's the rare 'Die Hard' knock-off that's a good movie all on its own. (It's no accident that director Jan de Bont was the cinematographer for 'Die Hard,' either.) It's fast-paced, entertaining, and a solidly built 1990s action movie that still holds up today. It's one of those movies you might rip to sound smart but can't help watching when it's on cable."
"My favorite is the unimpeachable classic 'Die Hard' on a bus, to wit, 'Speed.' Keanu butched up convincingly and gave a pretty magnificent performance in the lead as, essentially, a sapient testosterone molecule. And who can forget his reply to Dennis Hopper's repeated 'I'm smarter than you' taunts: 'Yeah? Well, I'm taller.' A thoroughly sublime cinematic experience."
"'Executive Decision.' The gag -- 'Die Hard' on an airplane -- may seem ridiculous, but that very claustrophobia, and the clever decision to focus on an ensemble cast of heroes including Kurt Russell, Steven Seagal, Halle Berry, Oliver Platt, John Leguizamo and Joe Morton make Stuart Baird's film feel special in a sub-genre based entirely on imitation. Everyone remembers the big act one twist, and it still comes across as ballsy, but stick around afterwards and you'll discover that it's a smart, funny and tightly ratcheted thriller in its own right."
"I'm going for the subversive, in David Fincher's 'Panic Room,' which places the emphasis on as small a location as is pretty much imaginable for a premise that riffs on the action genre."
"I'll go with 'Die Hard' on Alcatraz," a.k.a. 'The Rock.'"
The Best Movie Currently In Theaters on March 18th, 2013:
The Most Popular Response: "Like Someone in Love"
Other Titles Receiving Multiple Votes: "Oz: The Great and Powerful," "Stoker," "Beyond the Hills," "Leviathan," "No," "Silver Linings Playbook," "The We and the I," "Zero Dark Thirty."