Summer Movie Preview - May

Die Hard With a Vengeance
Starring Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson, Jeremy Irons, Sam Phillips, Graham Greene.
Directed By John McTiernan.

For a long time, Willis crushed all speculation about a third bang in the lucrative Die Hard series. "I thought we had kind of used up the franchise," he confesses. ''Then I got tired of being asked about it, so I said: 'If somebody comes up with a great script, we'll do it.''' Indeed, the scripts poured in, but neither Willis nor McTiernan — who set the gold standard for mousetrap action films like Speed and Under Siege with 1988's seminal Die Hard — felt the stories did enough to buck the formula. ''It seemed kind of silly going back to exactly the same thing,'' says McTiernan, who'd handed the reins of 1990's Die Hard 2 to Renny Harlin.

But the tide turned when the duo saw Simon Says, a Jonathan Hensleigh screenplay that had bounced around town as a possible sequel to the Brandon Lee film Rapid Fire or as an entry in the Lethal Weapon series. The story it became: A fey German bomber named Simon (Irons) teases and torments cop John McClane and wisecracking Harlem shop owner Zeus Carver (Jackson, who replaced Laurence Fishburne) while blowing up boats, trains, and portions of Manhattan. "It turned the original Die Hard completely on its ear," raves McTiernan. Adds Willis: ''The claustrophobia of the first film has been transferred to the canyons of New York City.'' And to the mind of McClane himself, now drinking hard and estranged from his wife — a script decision that left Bonnie Bedelia out of the film altogether. ''It isn't just John McClane trapped in a location with a bunch of bad guys,'' McTiernan explains cryptically. ''The box that John McClane is trapped inside is John McClane.'' Now all they need is a finished product — McTiernan was still in Baltimore shooting footage for the film's gunpowder climax only weeks before its curtain call.

What's at stake Rising from the shrapnel of Last Action Hero, McTiernan could use a smooth-sailing hit. The only thing that could stand in his way: Do people really want to see a movie about a mad bomber right now?

Johnny Mnemonic
Starring Keanu Reeves, Dolph Lundgren, Ice-T, Henry Rollins.
Directed By Robert Longo.

Say this for Johnny Mnemonic (if you can say it at all — ni-mahn-ik): Time's on its side. Not only does the thriller tap into the vogue for all things techno — cyberpunk godfather William Gibson (Neuromancer) wrote the script from one of his short stories — it stars Keanu Reeves, whose stock went skyward with last year's Speed. Johnny shares Speed's race-against-time rhythm: As a 21st-century data smuggler with a chip in his brain, Reeves has to deliver the psychic goods on deadline or his head will pop. But Mnemonic also amounts to an expensive experiment, marking the first feature for Longo, a New York artist. "I wasn't out to make an art movie," cautions Longo, who forced the crew to study sci-fi signposts like Blade Runner, Brazil, and Godard's Alphaville. ''It functions on two levels: It's got the real heavy Gibson complexities, and it's a balls-out chase movie.'' The artist's vision of the future, with much input from Gibson: not a slick, gleaming "Chanel commercial," but a place pockmarked by filth, roaming lunatics, and drudgery. ''When Johnny travels in cyberspace,'' Longo explains, ''it's not like an acid trip, but more that he's working. Everyone who has a computer can understand that.''

What's at stake Is Keanu more than a one-bus wonder?

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