Sunday, July 01, 2007

REVIEW: Live Free or Die Hard

Better than #2, close to #3, not as good as #1. That really kinda covers it.

It's endured because it remains a masterfully-crafted example of the action-thriller, but the first "Die Hard" was a massive success at the time owed to two more-immediate factors: First, it's overriding wish-fulfillment fantasy theme (one scruffy, balding, streetwise New York City cop can manhandle an army of high-tech European supercrooks because his streetwise, balding scruffiness imbues him with the living spirit of All-American Cowboy Machismo AND show the snotty L.A. yuppie types his ex-wife was so impressed with what a REAL MAN can do) and second, Bruce Willis' starmaking ability at inhabiting the character of John McClane.

It's somewhat interesting to note that, while "Live Free or Die Hard" is now the 3rd "Die Hard" sequel, it's the first one to (intentionally or not) "rhyme" the original's theme outright: In the original McClane was a rough "cowboy" matched against the slickness of Reagan-era big-dollar criminality; in "Live Free" he's the angry oldschooler duking it out with the eeeevils of the Digital Age - an Analog Avenger here to save us from the dark side of the iPod age and show a team of glorified Techno-Snob effigies that a bullet doesn't care how smart they are. Expectedly, the film lays all this on so thick it's kind of miraculous that McClane doesn't tell any of them to "blog THIS!!!" before blowing them away; but then this is "Die Hard," so subtlety isn't exactly to be sought after.

As per the series' rules, it's once again coincidence that draws McClane into the action and sense of duty that keeps him there: Homeland Security is having computer-hacker trouble, and Detective McClane is dispatched to pick up one of the top talents on the hacker watch-list (Justin Long) and bring him to Washington. It rapidly unfolds that all the other kids on the list have been assassinated by the real baddies, save of course for the one who had John McClane to watch his back. Luckily, he's also the one capable of figuring out what's really going down: A disgraced Government tech-expert (Timothy Olyphant) has taken over and shut down the nation's computers, aka the entire country's infrastructure, in order to prove a point and earn a tidy extortion sum.

Which is, at the end of the day, of a better-than-necessary reason to send Willis and Long hopping around the East Coast fighting off attacks by car, helicopter and hails of gunfire as they try to outwit and outshoot the bad guys. It doesn't try to reinvent the wheel or give the franchise some uneeded new depth, save for obeying the Action Hero Rule dictating that Action Heroes get progressively less-destructible as they grow older: In the original McClane found himself severely impaired (for awhile) by a lack of shoes and an abundance of broken glass; this time around he essentially wrestles a fighter jet to the ground and walks away looking amused with himself...

...and he still has energy left to show a pair of (bluntly) designated representatives from "newfangled" action-movie styles "who's boss" by dusting off a French master of parkour (read: Jackie Chan stunts as-performed by fashionably-unkempt European dudes) and Maggie Q as Hot-Asian-Kung-Fu-Hardcase-Girl ("enuff with th' kung-fu crap!!" grumbles McClane to the expected delight of those for whom action films have shown entirely too much grace and finesse as of recent.) One of these folks even gets smooshed by an SUV... Twice!!! for good measure.

It's a good movie. It's "Die Hard." It's a good "Die Hard" movie.