Free Or Die Hard
After John McClane
(Bruce Willis) took down a helicopter by shooting a car
at it, Goodson turned to me and said, "that would be a season
finale on 24." And that was just the end of the first
act of Live Free or Die Hard, the fourth installment/revival
of Willis' franchise.
By the time
this Len Wiseman-directed thriller reaches the end, we've
seen much, much more blowing up: truck vs. fourth floor,
semi-truck vs. Harrier jet (I'm suspicious that I'll see
the same scene in Transformers) but not, alas, monkey
If you've never
seen any of the Die Hard movies, this one won't leave
you guessing. The long-threatened divorce has finally happened,
and our introduction to McClane comes when he interrupts
his now grown daughter Lucy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) in
the midst of a date.
for him, he's missed the plot already in motion, as hackers
all across the country have been repaid for coding jobs
with death. Since the Department of Defense has noticed,
they earmark Matt Farrell (Justin Long) to be picked up.
Guess who gets the assignment?
And it all explodes
on a non-fiction article entitled "A Farewell To Arms,"
this film at least starts out by offering a plausible if
hopefully far-fetched scenario. Farrell calls it a "Fire
Sale," a terrorist attack in which everything must go if
it's controlled by computers. With methodical precision,
Wiseman shows the potential breakdown as services come under
the control of the villain, Tom Gabriel (Timothy Olyphant).
If it seems too easy to fool the various governmental branches
whose job it is to prevent this sort of thing, Farrell takes
the cheap shot of pointing out that it took FEMA five days
to get water to the Superdome.
Of course, this
should be about that one ordinary man prevailing against
the odds, which means that the idiot factor of everyone
else has to be cranked up. As usual, no one can shoot straight,
and they can't seem to put two and two together until it's
too late. After so many movies in which this sort of thing
happens, you think the government would train its security
offers not to fall for the old fake hazmat team bit.
When the action
gets loudest, however, you want to forgive this. Wiseman
has put together some truly spectacular stunts, in one of
which even McClane delivers our reaction - "whooooaaaah…"
Just like Renny Harlin went awry in Die Hard 2, Wiseman
starts losing the humanity of McClane amidst the action.
He's supposed to be an ordinary guy just slugging forward,
but the injuries he sustains stretch belief. Granted, it's
not like he loses a lot of blood; all of it is exactly where
he put it on his clothes and sweaty extremities.
At the core
of the script, at least, McClane fits the theme. He doesn't
understand the technobabble shooting around him, but he
does understand the consequences. Willis plays him with
an appropriately exhausted look, but never letting you forget
that like the best of cops, McClane registers his surroundings
at all times. That can range from commenting on Farrell's
magnificently doomed action figure collection (great set
decoration there) to noting tiny details in the lair of
The Warlock (Kevin Smith), the king of all hackers.
Free or Die Hard does a poor job of giving us context.
Unlike the previous films, the plot here supposedly has
sprawl. It's not one man stuck in a building or an airport;
it's one man fighting to save the Eastern Seaboard. Or maybe
the entire country; it gets hazy. The action remains tight
and claustrophobic, even on the city streets. The best scene
illustrating the citizenry's panic comes in a crowded police
station, but hey, that's just Saturday night at Kaiser to
some of us.
interesting images, though he's undone here by sloppy editing
in some places. A lot of Justin Long's dialogue has clearly
been added after the fact, perhaps to clarify the plot.
Though the director handles action well, he's not much for
actors. Few young actors can summon the coiled fury that
Olyphant can, but here he just wears one expression, somewhere
between petulant and surprised, that gives him nowhere to
go. Most of the actors could be replaced by puppets and
the performances would be about the same.
catchphrase has lost its impact. Part of that stems from
the desire to get a PG-13 rating, which cuts it off so that
we can finish it for ourselves. But it also feels forced,
like too much of the dialogue. It's unclear whether or not
McClane is supposed to be a throwback to the witty action
hero or not. His one-liners need work.
serviceable. Like its hero, the Die Hard series keeps
lumbering forward in the face of danger. Things blow up
good. Good guys save the day. And in the end, you'll have
fun. You just might have trouble remembering why.