Die Hard With A Vengeance Starring Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson, Jeremy Irons. Directed by John MacTiernan. Category II. Opening Thursday at the Edko, Park-Liberty, UA circuits and at the Astor/Columbia Classics. CINEMA is a great leveller. A genre that one day is heralded as being refreshing, innovative and successful becomes formatted, stale, over-exploited the next. Such a fate has befallen Die Hard, the post-modern action classic that launched a flurry of movies in which a hero did his baddy-slaying in highly controlled surroundings: on a bus (Speed ), on a commercial airliner (Passenger 57 ), on a navy battleship (Under Siege ). By the time Die Hard II came along, Bruce Willis's detective John McLane had had to expand his theatre of operations to an entire airport. In Die Hard With A Vengeance, the film-makers try awfully hard to convince us that this time out it's New York City that's at stake. They don't really succeed. Thus, the main thrust of the Die Hard series is lost and we are left instead with a wham-bam action blockbuster that bears more than a passing resemblance to Lethal Weapon (Lethal Hard-on, perhaps?). The reason? Well, faced with the task of injecting an emotional element into what is otherwise just a massively expensive special effects exercise, the men in Hollywood gave Brucie Baby a partner. Not just any partner, though. With what could turn out to be highly lucrative good timing, they opted for Samuel L. Jackson, fresh from Pulp Fiction and currently one of the hottest properties in the film world. He is an actor who burns up the screen and, perhaps more importantly, is one of few who can slap down Willis's smirking on-screen persona. That is actually Jeremy Irons' avowed intent in Die Hard With A Vengeance. Following embarrassing outings in supposedly erotic projects (Damage and M. Butterfly ) in which his efforts at sexual abandon had audiences squirming in their seats for all the wrong reasons, darling Jeremy has sensibly decided to take the money and camp it up outrageously as a Major Motion Picture Villain. Here he comes complete with a German accent, a never-ending migraine, a fiendish ability to invent nursery rhymes and ferociously destructive bombs. On top of this he has a sinewy physique, which he shows off by wandering around in a blue singlet. And he has an all-consuming hatred of Willis which causes him to lead the hungover detective in a game of 'Simon Says'. Through a series of fiendishly cunning plans, he drags Willis up and down Manhattan in increasingly desperate attempts to stop bombs going off. When he sends Willis into Harlem naked except for a sandwich-board reading 'I hate niggers', he unwittingly brings Jackson into play. Despite being a dyed-in-the-hood black rights activist, Jackson helps Willis out and then becomes his reluctant partner as Irons goes about his destructive work. After Irons and his army of former East German soldiers (groan) effect a Wall Street crash to end all crashes, the plot deteriorates into a series of ever-more spectacular stunts and devious double-crosses. Basically, New York City is held to ransom and only one man can . . . snore, snore, slumber . . . Come to think of it, it's unfair to label this slumber-worthy in any respect other than its cliched core ingredients. The action scenes - directed by John McTiernan, and crafted by technicians who made films like Speed and the original Die Hard - are breathtaking. The Wall Street sequence, an underwater flood scene and one involving a bridge and a cargo ship are outstanding. So much so that you would be advised to suspend and then meekly surrender your well-worn sense of disbelief to the usher on the way in. It won't come as a surprise to learn that character development is minimal. Willis is drinking too much (he reminds Irons umpteen times that he has a hangover), presumably because of the pain of separation from wife Bonnie Bedelia. In fact, the closest she gets to this film is the end of a telephone line. So instead Willis has to do his bickering with Jackson, whose racial inequality sloganeering is initially infuriating before the pair settle into a buddy-buddy rapport that resembles a second-rate Travolta/Jackson skit from Pulp Fiction. As they are fond of saying in Hollywood, this one opened huge in the States and can be expected to do so here. For those who would prefer to think awhile instead of rushing to the cinema for the opening weekend, I'd rate Irons below Malkovich (In the Line of Fire ) as a bad-guy; rate this third out of the Die Hard films; rate Jackson fractionally below Danny Glover in buddy-buddy terms, but rate the action sequences above those of True Lies or Speed. Oh, don't worry, this film won't change your life.