LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD

 

Review by Mark Walters

 

  I am a Bruce Willis fan.  Seriously.  I used to watch MOONLIGHTING every week without fail.  I thoroughly enjoyed the first DIE HARD movie.  I absolutely loved THE LAST BOYSCOUT.  In fact I pretty much like Bruce Willis in just about everything he does.  Even if the film is bad, I manage to take at least some pleasure from watching his performance.  It stands to reason that not all of Bruce's films have been winners, but the guy is just interesting to watch.  He has a realism about him that pulls you into whatever character he's playing.  I'm definitely a fan of the previous DIE HARD films, even DIE HARD WITH A VENGEANCE, which some are quick to pick on.  Oddly enough I think that film would've made a better sequel to THE LAST BOYSCOUT, as the character of John McClane during that outing was much more similar to Joe Hallenbeck than the McClane we were used to.  Since the third installment came out back in 1995, there has been on and off discussion about a fourth film, though it never seemed to get past the point of rumor.  Well now it's here, and is accompanied by a highly controversial "PG-13" rating.  Why controversial?  Have you seen the previous films?  The DIE HARD franchise seems to go hand in hand with overly violent death scenes and frequently abrasive cussing.  This new film comes to us through the eyes of director Len Wiseman, who previously helmed the UNDERWORLD movies.  So one must wonder, in this day of politically correct moviemaking, can John McClane still beat the baddies without and "R" rating?

  The film opens showing a series of hackers assisting a beautiful Asian woman (Maggie Q) with a mysterious program, after which she has them swiftly disposed of by way of bombs... in their computers no less.  We then cut to an older and more fatherly John McClane (Willis) interrupting his daughter Lucy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and her guy friend during a make out session.  Clearly Lucy wants nothing to do with her dad, and their relationship is distant to say the least.  John is then called to pick up a computer whiz in New Jersey named Matt Farrell (Justin Long), and bring him to Washington D.C. so that the FBI can question him.  Seems the aforementioned beautiful woman's program is causing a few government glitches, and Farrell may know something about it.  But when assassins show up to dispose of Matt and his knowledge, McClane finds himself once again fighting off bad guys he had no intention of ever meeting.  Once John and Matt hit the road, news is reported back to the mastermind behind the glitches, an infamous fellow named Thomas Gabriel (Timothy Olyphant).  With the FBI busy trying to understand their computer crisis, McClane and Farrell find themselves to be moving targets that Gabriel is determined to dispose of.  But what exactly is this guy up to anyway?  That's what John McClane intends to find out.

  This film wastes no time getting to the action.  Within the first ten or so minutes, Bruce is in the midst of a gunfight and car chase.  It's as if the filmmakers said "To hell with story, let's get to the good stuff."  While that's not necessarily a bad thing, folks that are new to the franchise may not ever get a sense of who John McClane really is, or where he comes from.  In fact most if not all of the characters are severely underdeveloped here.  Again, it may not necessarily be a bad thing.  When you come to see a DIE HARD movie, you come to see the action anyway.  But one aspect I liked with the previous films was the building tension, leading up to the carnage and not throwing you into the middle of it.  This is the total opposite, and it feels different as a result.  How different?  At first I didn't feel like I was watching a DIE HARD film, but rather an intense action flick with throwaway characters.  Then McClane began to morph into McClane.  Eventually you hit a point where you know this is the John McClane we've seen before.  He may be a little older, and a little slower to get up, but he's still the same guy.  I liked the fact that Willis doesn't ignore his age here, and even has more than a few scenes that acknowledge his ignorance toward current technology.  But no matter how high tech his opponents may be, he still knows how to kick ass.  Some people mentioned to me that this looks like a buddy film, since a majority of the story deals with Bruce and Justin Long riding around together.  Surprisingly it never quite falls into that trap.  Justin's character does something I love in movies, which also usually doesn't happen.  On more than one occasion, he stops to take in what just happened around him, the severe gravity of it, and in one particular scene he deals with the flood of emotions he experiencing.  It's a refreshing moment that easily could've been cut or never even considered.  But it's those kinds of things that add a level or realism to an otherwise completely implausible plot.

  For those of you saying "Yeah, yeah, yeah, what about the PG-13 rating???"  Let me say this - a LOT of people die in this film.  There may not be blood splattering about like you'd hope, but there's a pretty significant body count regardless.  At one point I began thinking to myself that it seemed like more people got shot to death in this DIE HARD outing than any of the previous ones.  Then it hit me.  Bruce Willis, or rather John McClane, wasn't killing as many people as he used to.  That's not to say he doesn't beat the ever-living crap out of guys, because he does.  But maybe that's the trick with the MPAA.  Don't let your hero do all the killing, and you'll get some leniency.  Hmm... either way, the action scenes are great, and at certain moments incredibly intense.  I did get the feeling a few sequences were shortened a bit, maybe so as not to be too violent, but overall the excitement here is pretty up to par from what we've seen before.  Now let's talk about what doesn't work.  The bad guy.  As much as I enjoy Timothy Olyphant as an actor, his performance here makes him seem like a spoiled rich nerdy kid who is angry he's not getting his way.  I didn't find him physically threatening at all.  He's easily the weakest presence held next to any of the previous McClane villains.  Was that intentional?  I don't know, but John McClane needs someone more worthy to match wits with, not some young punk who looks like he'd flinch if you laughed at him.  The script.  Ugh, it's not a completely awful screenplay, but some of the audience pandering got to be a bit much.  Elements such as what I like to call "forced foreshadowing", like talking definitively about how the cars have low jack on them, so of course we know that's important information that may be used later.  Or pointing out there's a CB radio in a room full of high-tech gear, because if all the high-tech gear failed, that baby would still work.  There's subtle ways to do that in movies.  These weren't subtle.  And then there's the all-too-important discovery of who the mastermind behind the insidious plot is.  Rather than slowly reveal why this guy is bad news, the authority characters resort to some cheesy "Oh God no, not Thomas Gabriel!" lines that will almost certainly make you laugh when you shouldn't.  Aside from Olyphant playing it a little too milk toast, Willis is great as McClane, especially once he gets into the groove of things.  He's got some great lines here, not to mention a few hilarious nicknames for supporting characters.  Justin Long is likable while still being naive and morally questionable.  He's the kind of comedic sidekick that you can relate to, as any one of us would most likely react in similar fashion to him in these situations.  Cliff Curtis, who is a very capable New Zealand actor, kind of just goes through the motions as the FBI man of the hour named Bowman.  I kept waiting for his character to shine, but like many in the script he's just sort of there.  Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays Lucy McClane with feisty fashion, but actually ends up absent for a majority of the film.  I thought Maggie Q was great as the hot but deadly henchwoman, and her inevitable fight scenes with Willis are some of the best moments in the film.  Look for Kevin Smith as a rather flamboyant super-hacker named Warlock, who while a little overplayed still comes off as a likable and memorable character.  It will certainly help appease the younger viewers of the film.  The ending is a little anti-climactic, though it follows an amazing action sequence which will most likely become the film's signature moment.  And then there's the frequently asked question as to whether or not John McClane gets to say his all too famous catchphrase.  I'll just say this, in any PG-13 movie you are allowed to use the "F" word once.  You think they're going to give that usage to anyone other than Bruce?

Overall LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD is fun to watch, and a nice addition to the catalog of DIE HARD films.  There's a definite updated feel here, but still some nostalgia present.  We even get a few subtle (and one not so subtle) nods to the first movie.  I wasn't disappointed when I walked out, but I wasn't completely blown away either.  I can say that I liked it, and I wouldn't mind seeing Bruce do another in the series.  I only hope the next one features a better bad guy, and a slightly better script.  At 52 years of age, John McClane is still kicking butt, and we believe it, and ultimately that's all that matters.

BIGFANBOY.com score - On a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being best, I give LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD a 8.


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