Live Free or Die Hard
20th Century Fox
Now Showing at: most major theaters.
Review by: Larry Thomas
To borrow from that great lyricist Ira Gershwin: "summertime…and the
sequels are easy." Ever since the bean counters started running the movie
business, they have known that during summer, which is traditionally the peak
movie attendance time, it's easier and safer to go with the tried and true.
This has led to an annual glut of sequels, remakes, and bad movie versions of
bad TV shows. Generally speaking, the warmer the weather, the less originality
you'll see on movie screens.
Every once in a while, however, they do manage to get it right, as in the case
of Live Free or Die Hard, the fourth entry in the saga of officer
John McClane and his one-man crusade to thwart the bad guys. The original film
in 1988 set the standard for big, splashy, over-the-top action thrillers, and
made a superstar out of Bruce Willis. In the rush to crank out a moneymaking
sequel, Die Hard 2 followed in 1990. It was ok, but not great. The
third outing was five more years in the making, and had the added marquee value
of Samuel L. Jackson and Jeremy Irons. It was better than two, but still not
as good as one.
Now, after a twelve-year wait, John McClane is back in action. Willis is decidedly
older, and definitely balder, than in the previous films, while maintaining
his physical stamina and cinematic charm. Rarely does he turn in a bad performance,
and this film is no exception.
The newest terrorist to get McClane's attention is an uber computer geek
who has the ability to bring America to its knees financially by shutting down
everything run by computer…which these days is pretty much everything.
The analog McClane enlists the help of a young hacker, who is suspected of writing
some of the code that's causing havoc. And, as happens in action movies,
the young man is dragged into the action…dodging cars, bullets and all
manner of lethal weapons.
Live Free or Die Hard subscribes to the mantra of sequels: bigger…more…bigger…more.
In this case it works. It's loud, spectacular, frenzied, and unbelievable,
just like a great big comic book. Justin Long is fine as the hacker. Ditto Timothy
Olyphant as the bad guy. He looks crazy, acts introspectively, and rarely breaks
into the raving tirades that characterize so many villains. Mary Elizabeth Winstead
is McClane's daughter, the obligatory family member in distress whom daddy
must rescue. The rest of the supporting cast, while basically unknown, all perform
their tasks ably. There's even a fun cameo appearance by director Kevin
Smith, as Long's hacker mentor.
At 129 minutes, Live Free or Die Hard keeps its pace and never
feels draggy. It provides everything required of a big-time summer action movie.
And, yes, despite getting a PG-13 rating, Willis' character does get to
deliver his signature line from the series, and quite cleverly, too.