Some movies ought to be reviewed not by critics but by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Watching Die Hard with a Vengeance, third in the series that pits New York City cop John McClane (Bruce Willis) against a wily, chatty nut case with a fondness for TNT, the viewer simply suspends belief and coolly appraises the things that go boom. Say, wasn't that a nicely staged Wall Street explosion? My, that runaway subway train crashed onto the platform with a certain vigorous verismo. Oh, look-more actors playing dead people! So little wit is expended on the dialogue and so much on the imagination of disaster that you may as well sit back and enjoy the jolting ride.
Having seen concepts for sequels pre-empted by Under Siege (Die Hard on a destroyer) and Speed (Die Hard on a bus), director John McTiernan and writer Jonathan Hensleigh turned the tables and appropriated a device sure to be used in this summer's Batman Forever. Like the Riddler, Vengeance's evil genius (Jeremy Irons) taunts the hero with word games, history quizzes and math problems -- riddles, see? This keeps the plot clock ticking as McClane and a good-hearted black racist (Samuel L. Jackson) dash around Manhattan at Irons' bidding.
Whereas the first two Die Hard films made smart use of their enclosed locations, this one devolves into a skittish travelogue that ends up in Canada. Still, Willis' aggrieved burliness is always persuasive, and red-meat lovers will have an agreeably volatile two hours of fantasy-if, that is, they can keep one word out of their minds: militia. A scary scenario on that subject is doubtless being drafted for next summer's macho blockbuster.