Live Free or Die Hard Review

by Jerry Saravia (Faust668 AT msn DOT com)
November 17th, 2009

Reviewed by Jerry Saravia
RATING: Three stars

"Live Free or Die Hard" is a hackneyed, preposterous and thoroughly entertaining techno thriller. It is a fun ride but it does not carry some of the hallmarks of the first two films in the "Die Hard" franchise, and it has a "been there, done that" quality but what sequel doesn't? Suffice to say, if you enjoyed the earlier films, you'll find enough to enjoy here.

Bruce Willis is a bald, older John McClane, ordered to bring in a computer hacker, Matt (Justin Long), to the feds because some nut who formerly worked for the government, Thomas Gabriel (Timothy Olyphant), wants to bring "America to its knees." Before long, there are elongated shootouts, glass breakage, various car chases, de rigueur explosions and some truly improbable stunts (my favorite is using a car as a weapon against a helicopter!) In other words, this is a high- octane techno thriller in every sense of the word. The exceptions to the usual pyrotechnics on display here is that this is the first "Die Hard" sequel set in a post-9/11 world. But there are no Arabs nor anyone vaguely resembling Al-Qaida or the Taliban as the villains here. No, we just get an old-fashioned angry and unemployed white government worker. The rule of thumb in movies post-9/11 is that the terrorists are either savvy computer geniuses or cold-blooded British types or both, so as to not offend anyone.

This is interesting because some may recall that Willis dismissed doing a fourth "Die Hard" flick shortly after 9/11. In recent years, his best work has been as a weary, downtrodden cop in the underrated "16 Blocks," which coincidentally has a similar plot involving taking a prisoner to a courthouse rather than the feds. But anything vaguely terroristic has been left out of Willis's action milieu for quite some time. In this "Die Hard" sequel, a few keystrokes are all that is needed to bring America to its knees by controlling traffic lights, air traffic, breaking in to the Pentagon and military computer systems, and perpetrating a simulation of the Capitol in ruins just to get everyone rattled! These cyber terrorists are so sophisticated that they apparently have cameras everywhere recording everything Mr. McClane and company are doing.

"Live Free or Die Hard" is highly implausible featuring more implausibly elaborate action sequences than ever before, including a fighter jet tearing down an entire freeway while McClane slides up and down ramps. Still, a chillingly suspenseful scene where McClane is hanging on to a SUV inside an elevator shaft while fighting Mai (Maggie Cheung), a martial-artist, is one for the action history books.

This new "Die Hard" gets the job done and is far more entertaining than the third limp entry, "Die Hard With a Vengeance." However, the emotional, humanistic core of John McClane that we have seen before, the troubled, vulnerable married man, is virtually gone. Mostly McClane fights with his estranged daughter, Lucy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), and that is hardly on the same wavelength as Willis's rapport with Bonnie Bedelia from the first film. I even miss scenes like McClane taking a bottle full of aspirin after a full night of getting soused in the third film, or the key relationship between McClane and the cop communicating by walkie-talkie in the original. And yet, I like the rapport between Willis and Justin Long, the latter who hates 20th century music like CCR (how dare he!). It drives the film and serves as an anchor for the wall-to-wall action.

So here it is: Willis is in fine form and has a few canny one-liners, Long is occasionally funny in a nervous, chatty kind of way, Maggie Cheung should've been the real villain of the film (not the somewhat anemic Olyphant), and it is a real pleasure to see Kevin Smith as a geeky, Star Wars-loving computer hacker with his own command center. A fun time at the movies overall yet it lacks some of the action hero's vulnerability that gave added spark to the earlier films. Or maybe McClane's bitterness is his vulnerability.

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