Monday, July 16, 2007

Review: Live Free or Die Hard

The Skinny:
The 4th installment of the Die Hard franchise.

The Review:
The original Die Hard (1988) has come to be one of the standards by which all other modern-day action movies are measured. Subsequent watered-down movies of the genre were often described as "Die Hard in/on a _______" (insert your favorite action movie locale here). It also single handedly propelled Bruce Willis' film career down the path it has embodied for almost 20 years. Hell, a good friend of mine and his wife even chose this as their 'Christmas movie' when they first started dating and they still watch it every year at Christmas time. Die Hard 2: Die Harder was, meh… (not terrible but, not surprisingly, compared to the original, far inferior), and I actually enjoyed Die Hard with a Vengeance quite a bit. It was just as ridiculous as the first one with a common story line connection. You go to these kinds of movies for a reason, and it ain't to have your heartstrings tugged. You go for their ridiculousness – the action, shooting, blowing stuff up, all while rooting for the all-American good guy. That's why John McClane is the perfect action movie character and the reason the Die Hard movies are so far and above the rest of the pack – he's easy to root for because he sets out usually trying to accomplish some mundane task and ends up involved in some ungodly, outrageous situation.

With so much history invested in the trilogy thus far, it was easy to list all the reasons this movie should have failed. It is coming 12 years after the last sequel and almost 20 years (really?) after the original. Action movies aren't cut from the same cloth today as they were back in their heyday. Now the market is bloated with mostly CG crap that doesn't involve anyone passed a possibly sweet looking trailer (Spider-Man 3 anyone?). Then there was the controversy surrounding the rating of the movie itself. The previous three movies were all rated R, but when word came out that this one was being edited down to PG-13 to widen its potential audience, I was among the masses who cried 'Foul'! But the trailer looked so damn cool, and I have an affinity for most things Bruce Willis, so I decided to keep an open mind, hold my breath, and hope for the best.

The movie picks up 12 years after the last movie. We find that John McClane, supercop, has managed to divorce his wife Holly, become estranged from his daughter Lucy and remain on the NYPD. The meat of the plot was standard implausible, harebrained action movie fare: a group of super computer hackers, led by Thomas Gabriel (the underrated Tim Olyphant), plot to attack the vulnerability of the United States computer infrastructure and systematically shut down the country. As usual, McClane gets caught in the middle of everything while attempting to complete the most menial of tasks; pick up Matt Ferrell (Justin Long), a hacker wanted for questioning, and deliver him to authorities in Washington DC.

In short: this movie did not disappoint – at all. It was a lot of fun to see Willis inhabit the role again that made him famous without feeling stale or forced. I was surprised to also see Justin Long hold his own here too. The banter between McClane and Ferrell was light and funny. Even though the plot was completely absurd, the movie worked because of the dialogue and the exhilaration of the action sequences. There were times when I rolled my eyes at how over the top it was, but for the most part, I was wide-eyed at the action sequences themselves. If you didn't know it was PG-13 going in, you wouldn't be able to tell - it was pretty intense! It was just a lot of fun, and somewhat comforting, to see that a familiar, beloved movie character such as McClane can still hold his own in today's incarnation of the action movie. And as the 'cherry on top', Kevin Smith has a great cameo as Warlock, a shut-in hacker who lives in his mom's basement.

The Rub:
While it will be hard to ever top the original, this latest installment lives free and dies hard trying (come on – did I really just use a cheesy tagline pun? Grody...). A preposterous plot that doesn't even matter because of the insane action sequences and trademark John McClane smart-ass antics. It's like finding out the Smashing Pumpkins were getting back together without the sucking that came with the Smashing Pumpkins actually getting back together. Easily the best of the Die Hard sequels, this is a pitch-perfect summer popcorn action movie. I loved this movie – go see it; now! And there's the rub.

**** 1/4 of *****

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