Live Free or Die Hard

Die Hard is the model for the modern action movie series. The first installment is a classic, one of the cornerstones of the genre. The two sequels pretty much stunk up theaters.

But the original made a lot of money and I guess the successors did well enough that there has been talk of a fourth one for over a decade now. Willis, who wants to be able to do other kinds of movies has been hesitant. I suspect that now that he’s in his fifties and has a long career of both action movies and serious films under his belt, he’s a little less worried about being typecast.

So after a decade off, he consented to try again. This time John McClane is fifty something, still a New York detective although he’s a step slower and about twenty years more ornery. He’s gotten in shape, however, and seems to be less combative toward authority figures. Of course he’s now divorced and his grown daughter hates him. I suppose you could call it a break from tradition that the script doesn’t trap him him in an office building, an airport or an Arby’s, but rest assured remnants of the old formula remain. The villain, one Thomas Gabriel, played by Timothy Olyphant is an arrogant megalomaniac who forms a crack team to bring down a piece of public infrastructure, in this case the computer systems that run the banks and utilities of the entire country, a nightmare scenario called a fire sale, in order to create a distraction while they steal a lot of money. Just like old times.

To stop him, John McClane must drag computer nerd Matt Ferrell, played by Justin Long of the PC vs. Mac commercials fame. Ferrell unwittingly contributed to Gabriel’s plot by writing a bit of code. Unfortunately, part of the plan is to eliminate all such contractors. And with good reason, Ferrell is smart enough to figure out what Gabriel is doing and how he’s doing it.

So a lot of cars get crashed, McClane and Ferrell get chased, shot, and thrown from great heights, and all kinds of stuff gets blown up. It’s a pedestrian premise, but they make it work. The plot is somewhat coherent. The script has some of the trademark snappy dialog, a lotof which, I understand, is improvised. There are attemp at characterization that aren’t entirely clumsy and are enough to make you care how the chases and explosions come out. And the performances…Oh, who cares! You get to watch Bruce Willis being Bruce Willis and that’s worth eight bucks right there. Justin Long brings a natural charisma to his role, also. You just like this guy. Olyphant isn’t worthy to shine Alan Rickman’s shoes, but we shouldn’t blame him for that because so few are. He’s serviceable.

So if you’re in the mood for a big dumb summer movie, Live Free or Die Hard fits the bill. It won’t make you forget Die Hard but really who wants to?


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July 2007
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