Monday, December 20, 2010

"Live Free or Die Hard" (2007)

Starring Bruce Willis, Justin Long and Timothy Olyphant
Written by Mark Bomback
Directed by Len Wiseman

A full 12 years after "Die Hard with a Vengeance," John McClane returned to theatres with "Live Free or Die Hard" and I'm still not sure whether it was a good idea or not.  A fourth go around wouldn't have been a bad idea in the 90s, but more than a decade later?

John McClane (Bruce Willis) is now an aging senior detective with the NYPD.  He's long divorced from Holly, and his daughter Lucy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is now in college and wants nothing to do with him.  John McClane is tired.  One night, he's ordered to drive to New Jersey to pick up a computer hacker named Matt Farrell (Justin Long) who is wanted for questioning by the FBI.  When McClane arrives to pick up Farrell, the two are attacked by mercenaries.  Barely escaping, McClane and Farrell head to Washington DC to meet with FBI Director Bowman (Cliff Curtis) and they soon discover the full scope of the threat: someone has initiated a "fire sale" - a full-scale attack on the technological infrastructure of the United States.  Transportation, communication, utilities, all going down one after another and chaos breaks out across the nation.

It seems the architect of this carefully laid plan is Thomas Gabriel (Timothy Olyphan) and his girlfriend, Mai (Maggie Q).  Gabriel used to work for the US government, but was drummed out when his work became a bit too radical for his superiors to handle.  He's spent the last few years putting together this plan, including using a bunch of computer hackers like Farrell to create small bits of code necessary to pull of his plan, and then killing the hackers when they finish.

But as McClane does what he does best - ie, be a pain in the ass - Gabriel steps up the game, kidnapping Lucy.  McClane and Farrell must figure out how to stop Gabriel's apocalyptic plan and get Lucy back alive.

"Live Free or Die Hard" is a really interesting part of the "Die Hard" franchise.  Parts of it feel very much like a "Die Hard" adventure, and parts of it simply don't.  It presents an interesting emotional arc for McClane, far more so than the previous two films, as McClane comes face to face with his own inadequacies as a father and his growing obsolescence in a time of increasing technological advancement. "Live Free or Die Hard" is not a bad film, but it's not all that great... and it's not all that great of a "Die Hard" film, either.

Of the four films, it has the most epic scope.  "Die Hard" was limited to a single building, "Die Hard 2" expanded to an airport and "Die Hard With a Vengeance" opened up to all of Manhattan.  But this fourth adventure throws the whole of the eastern seaboard at John McClane, who will travel from New Jersey to Washington, to West Virginia to Baltimore and back again.  It's this aspect that makes the film feel a bit more like a generic action picture than a "Die Hard" film.

The action here is pretty fun, most of it stays within the bounds of the stylized reality of your typical action picture.  There are chases, fights, shootouts and the like.  The problem, and this is one of the major failings of the film as a whole, is that while most of the action is well and good, the final climax of the film suddenly flails wildly over the top, jumping the shark in the most ridiculous manner possible.  The allure of the John McClane character has always been that he's an everyman caught up in an extraordinary situation... but not too extraordinary.  He gets into fights and shootouts with crooks and terrorists.  He really shouldn't be jumping off of big-rig trucks onto the back of an F-35 fighter jet.  This whole sequence is visually impressive, but so wildly out of character not jsut for the series but for even this movie in particular that it immediately pulls me out of the film.

Timothy Olyphant is another weak point in the film.  He's not a memorable villain, nor a particularly charismatic one.  Olyphant speaks in a slow, stilted monotone and isn't a formidable physical presence, either.  Now, I like Olyphant, but here he's just a waste.  Maggie Q, on the other hand, as his girlfriend/henchwoman Mai is a sexy, dangerous presence that livens things up.  Justin Long can be a little grating, but for the most part manages to not be as annoying as he could have been.  He complains a lot, but it works to give McClane a little extra exasperation to bring out the laughs.

While I can enjoy "Live Free or Die Hard" for what it is, it's not an entirely successful rejuvenation of the franchise.  The climax is just too ridiculous and the villain to lame, though the rest of the film is good enough to bolster it above the more thoroughly mediocre "Die Hard 2".  With a better villain, it might've topped "Die Hard With a Vengeance."

See Also
"Die Hard"
"Die Hard 2"
"Die Hard With a Vengeance"