Sunday, July 01, 2007

FILM: "Live Free or Die Hard"

So what's John McClane doing in a Tom Clancy novel? (Or more accurately, a Wired article from 1997.) Kicking ass and taking names, or taking names and kicking ass, i.e., inserting smirks and exuding confidence, replacing exposition with crude panache, and keeping that action hero spirit alive (at least until Indiana Jones IV). He'd better, because the stakes are higher than ever. There's no office, airport, or city at stake this time: America itself is held hostage by a bunch of cyber-terrorists running a "fire sale" (everything must go). And yeah, they've got a member of his family hostage again. Bruce Willis, as McClane, has been through it all before, so when he's scared, it looks more like he's excited to be back. Glad to see you, John, but there are plenty of flaws.

First off, Live Free or Die Hard suffers from its sprawling, disconnected set pieces (Die Hard with a Vengeance kept the octane up with the whole aspect of a game, not to mention the far more engaging set of villains). And while Mark Bombeck has successfully written McClane as (appropriately) a "Timex watch in a digital age," director Len Wiseman makes even the scars look too slick and modern: there's none of the gritty charm of the previous Die Hard films (perhaps because this is the first PG-13 installment). The first shootout, an assassination attempt on Matthew Farrell that McClane gets in the middle of, is at least set in a grimy apartment in the middle of the night, but from there on, technology takes over, both in the plot and the cinematography.

John's targets are also bigger, this time around. John's narrowly escaped being blown up with helicopters (Die Hard), planes (Die Hard 2), and trucks (Die Hard with a Vengeance) before, but he's never really been the one to do it, and there's a distinct lack of fisticuffs. There's also a distinct lack of charisma between hero and villain, not to mention villain and villain and hero and hero, so the only thing to watch "Die Hard 4.0" for is Bruce Willis: Justin Long is an unfortunate sidekick, a prepubescently poor substitute for Samuel L. Jackson (no Reginald VelJohnson), and the villanous Timothy Olyphant gapes and winces more with indigestion or boredom than anything inspiringly evil. (Still not sure what Maggie Q is doing here.)

A revitalized Willis is a decent reason to watch, and let's face it -- flaws, especially logical ones, never really hurt a summer blockbuster before. Those wooden actors are going to be dead in a few minutes anyway. We can ignore the fact that John doesn't kill all the bad guys, or that even after all the phones go dead, an OnStar-like car security system still puts our heroes through to a patient operator. We can accept the lackluster conclusion, if only because McClane utters that expletive and hyphen-heavy catchphrase one last time. Yeah, that's right, readers: yippee-ki-yay.

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