Live Free or Die Hard (2007) / Action-Thriller
aka Die Hard 4.0
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for violence, language, and a brief sexual situation
Running time: 130 min.
Cast: Bruce Willis, Justin Long, Timothy Olyphant, Cliff Curtis, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Maggie Q, Kevin Smith, Jonathan Sadowski, Andrew Friedman, Yorgo Constantine
Director: Len Wiseman
Screenplay: Mark Bomback
Bruce Willis (Perfect Stranger, Grindhouse) returns to his most famous of roles again, playing John McClane, the NYPD cop (now a detective) who always seems to be smack dab in the middle of the action wherever terrorists make their play for power. Each successive entry in the Die Hard series has tried to outdo its predecessor in the action department, and when you consider that the first Die Hard already had fun toying with going beyond the limits of credibility, but with a wink, you can probably guess what they've aimed for here. Basically, there isn't a single moment in he film that one could point to and deem as believable, but after all we've seen McClane do for three movies, we all know, expect, and enjoy the films for being utterly ridiculous -- the more so, the better.
I could criticize the film for overkill in the action and stunts department to the detriment of the plausibility, but in this case, I'd be lying if I said I didn't enjoy it precisely for its level of absurd explosiveness. The reason why isn't because I love mindless destruction just for destruction's sake; it's because someone obviously put a lot of thought into this mindless destruction. When you see a fighter jet taking on a semi in a collapsing highway overpass, you know that creative minds came together to try to show that which has never been shown in a film, and pull it off with rip-roaring panache. Even the plot itself, which is mostly performed through the fast-paced typing of computer hackers with an agenda, is a bold move. They could have just had another building to blow up, or a nuclear facility to explode, but they took a risk and went for the "fire sale". You have to admire the direction, even if you find the execution less than perfect.
The plot involves McClane on a mission to escort a computer hacker, Matt Ferrell (Long, Accepted), into custody for suspicion of crimes. However, both men get more than they bargained for when some heavily-strapped bad guys come to Ferrell's apartment with the intention of mortal harm. Of course, they make their explosive escape, but not before it's discovered that a team of super-hackers has all but completely dismantled all of the financial, security, and much of the utility safety nets that keep civilization running in the U.S. With Ferrell's brain and McClane's brawn, this dynamic duo prove to be the only obstacles the country has to prevent total collapse at the hands of a disgruntled security expert (Olyphant, Catch and Release) who invented the safety net system to begin with.
While this is undeniably the most spectacular in the Die Hard series when it comes to the scope of the heinous crimes committed and the sheer amount of destruction that comes into play, if there's one thing that this fourth entry is the lesser of, it's in the humor department. There is some mild comic relief here and there, and performances by Justin Long and Kevin Smith (Clerks II) could be called quirky and comical, but not in the self-referencing, tongue-in-cheek fashion that the previous three films greatly benefited from.
In order to appreciate Live Free or Die Hard, you have to come into it knowing that your brain will have to be left at the door. It's a purely escapist action flick that reels you in with an ultra-ludicrous scenario, but done with straight-faced confidence, while the scenes involving McClane and his vicious retribution plays everything to the hilt. The creators know what people want, and they deliver. It's indulgent, but at this point in an already unfathomably implausible series, would we really want it any other way?
Live Free or Die Hard is directed by Len Wiseman, whose only previous efforts were the action-packed but dreadfully shallow Underworld films. Given a decent enough script, Wiseman could probably put his skills for visual aesthetics to good use. The script by Mark Bomback (Godsend, The Night Caller) isn't particularly good, but somehow it manages to work, precisely because we already know and like the character of John McClane. Bolstered by the the sizable momentum coming in, Wiseman and Bomback at least know well enough to not get in the way of strapping on the TNT and letting it rip, while McClane gets in and out of scrapes as only he can.
Although it is quite explosive throughout, the flip side of Live Free or Die Hard is that momentum and interest do slip from time to time, particularly during rather prolonged moments of exposition where various computer-ese concepts and primary character motivations have to be explained. It's probably necessary from a story standpoint, and while certainly welcome as moments of rest after gargantuan action pieces, these mental interludes shouldn't be spent having to process a bunch of information we know all too well is a bunch of hooey anyway.
Much has been made of the fact that this is the only entry in the series that isn't rated R, edited by the studio to ensure the wider appeal of a PG-13 release. Honestly, with so much violence and vehicular carnage, I had all but completely forgotten the lesser rating until near the very end, where McClane utters his famous catch phase, "Yippy Kai Yay, mother fu---", without getting to utter the "cker" part. Perhaps a future DVD release will restore the F-bombs that were meant to be there in the first place, but I'm thinking that it probably wouldn't make it a better film, being that the series has never been particularly excessive in its goriness, even with the R ratings.
Despite the fact that it is a far cry from the sheer pleasures of the first Die Hard, and arguably the lesser of the sequels in many significant respects, Live Free or Die Hard remains more of a surprise than a disappointment somehow. I think we've all been jaded by sequels that barely try to be good, while others try all too hard. In a way, it's similar to the success of Rocky Balboa, both inferior sequels to dormant series that pale in comparison to the first entry, and yet, they're still enjoyably familiar -- a worthwhile return trip for those who have been missing the heroes of their youth on the big screen.
McClane is insultingly compared to "a Timex watch in a digital age" by the main baddie. If one thinks about it, It's not really much of an insult. After four increasingly-preposterous high-octane outings, John McClane is that Timex personified, taking his licking while keeping on ticking.
-- Preceded by Die Hard, Die Hard 2: Die Harder and Die Hard with a Vengeance. Followed by A Good Day to Die Hard.
©2007 Vince Leo