In the quarter century since “Die Hard” was first unleashed on moviegoers worldwide, there have been countless iterations of the same formula, to the point that, for a while at least, it became a whole action movie subgenre. Projects would be pitched (and subsequently produced) with sentences describing the movie as “Die Hard” on a… There’s been “Die Hard” on a plane (“Executive Decision,” “Passenger 57“), “Die Hard” in a tunnel (“Daylight“) “Die Hard” on a bus (“Speed“) and “Die Hard” in the White House (“White House Down“). The fact that no one’s attempted a “Die Hard” with a female heroine seems like some kind of cosmic impossibility, but it’s never happened. Until now. With “Everly,” the basic “Die Hard” formula is rehashed with a female lead in mind, and the results are surprisingly spectacular. The shtick still works 26 years later.
When “Everly” opens, the title character (played by Salma Hayek) is naked, wounded and hobbling into her bathroom. The apartment she lives in in is dotted with a mysterious symbol and filled with dead Japanese gangsters, and it’s slowly revealed that she was a prostitute working for the yakuza before she started snitching to a local police detective. The gangsters, as it happens, were very upset. A bunch of goons were dispatched to assassinate her, but those same goons drastically underestimated her skills. As it turns out, Everly is unfuckwithable. But she’s not invincible. And she frantically works to get her daughter and elderly mother out of the city before the same gangsters can go after them, maintain consciousness in spite of the bullet wound and get out of the apartment building that is steadily being flooded with deadly assassins. Nope, not rocket science, but still entertainingly crafted.
As far as narrative goes, “Everly” is streamlined, almost to a fault. She has to get out of her apartment but is being kept there by various menacing forces. That’s pretty much all there ever is plot wise. And watching the various combinations and foes that are stacked against her is part of the movie’s fun, of course, even if it occasionally inspires you to incredulously throw up your hands in exasperation and yell, “What now?” Clearly the single location idea isn’t just inspired by “Die Hard” director John McTiernan‘s use of a glittery Los Angeles skyscraper, but also acts an effective cost-saving measure. “Everly” is an economic movie, both financially and in narrative terms.
Not that the movie is without its flourishes. Director Joe Lynch has a background in sophisticatedly schlocky horror movies, like the direct-to-video sequel “Wrong Turn 2,” and handily applies rococo embellishments wherever he can. At one point Everly is visited by an older Japanese gentlemen who is dressed like Tom Wolfe and who calls himself the Sadist (his perverse partner-in-crime, a mostly-naked balding fellow, is known only as the Masochist). Four henchmen with gold lacquered finger nails flank the Sadist, dressed as mythological Japanese ghosts, and the entire sequence plays out like kabuki theater for degenerates. The Sadist ties up Everly and takes out small vials of poison, handling them like delicate jewels.
Hayek, for her part, is fully committed. This movie looks like it was a physically grueling experience, and she gets kicked, punched, tortured by guys dressed as ancient Japanese ghosts (see above) and generally goes through hell. This would have been a tough gig just based on these extreme circumstances, but the fact that she has to actually articulate emotion while doing all of this makes her performance really compelling. At some point her mother and daughter join her at her apartment. She hasn’t seen her daughter since she gave her up for adoption when she was born, and has a contentious relationship with her mother, who she hasn’t heard from her in years. As Everly, Hayek has to try and untangle these thorny personal issues while also facing off against a never-ending wave of violent attackers. Much like “Die Hard” (naturally), “Everly” is about a fractured family and about the superhuman lengths that the main characters are willing to go to in order to put that family back together. (And once again, like “Die Hard,” “Everly” underscores this thematic element by setting the movie at Christmas. Plus, it’s always cool to see an action movie set to some old yuletide standby.)
Also, for a movie where so many characters utter the phrase “That’s a lot of dead whores,” so much that it might as well be the movie’s catchphrase, the gender politics are surprisingly progressive. You can’t just change John McClane’s gender and make a compelling action movie. But what you can do is use the character’s femininity in a way that doesn’t feel like it’s a hindrance. This situation isn’t impossible because she’s a woman—it’s impossible because it’s impossible. Hayek seems to really understand this, gamely spitting lines like “I’m nobody’s bitch,” and struggling with trying to mortally wound bad guys while wearing cheetah print high heels (she later subs the heels for more practical sneakers). There are themes of personal identity, sisterhood and female empowerment, but they’re laced through the narrative nimbly, and it never becomes preachy or stops the action. Like the character’s femininity, it’s just there, and it’s refreshing to see a woman kick ass not because she’s a superhero or has ingested some kind of experimental drug. She kicks ass because she’s intelligent and observant and has been around dangerous characters for most of her adult life. It doesn’t go beyond the fact that she picks things up. And that’s pretty great.
Since most people showing up to “Everly” are more interested in its pyrotechnics than its politics, it’s safe to say that it totally delivers on that count. Lynch has a sure hand, and the movie never gets bogged down in a specific visual style (even if, occasionally, the digital photography looks cheap and crunchy). The camera moves but never feels overly active, and within the first few minutes the geography of the apartment is so brilliantly laid out that you feel like you could navigate your way around blindfolded. It has a nice tempo, with the appropriate lulls in the action and some surprising reveals. It’s effective and gore-soaked and occasionally shocking. And when it plays to packed audiences, it’s easy to imagine them whooping in agreement. As the “Die Hard” franchise gets bigger and more bloated as the endless sequels wear on, it’s nice to see an action movie that captures the original film’s spirit so well. “Die Hard” with a woman seems like kind of a no-brainer. But no matter the reason that it never materialized, it’s here now. Thankfully it was worth the wait. [B]