Wednesday, June 27, 2007


A Timex watch in a digital age

By Edward Copeland
This is how you revive a movie franchise. It's with great pleasure that I report that Live Free or Die Hard is a rousing thrill ride which, though nowhere near the greatness of the 1988 original, certainly marks the series' second best installment as well as being the best popcorn action film I've seen in quite some time.

Directed by Len Wiseman, whose most recognizable previous films were the Underworld films that I haven't seen, Live Free or Die Hard starts out fast and never slows down, moving at such a breakneck pace that you are too busy enjoying yourself to question the multiple implausibilities and cartoony action sequences.

Some of the bad guys survive such calamities that it reminded me of those crashes on The A-Team, where helicopters would slam into mountains, burst into flames and hit the ground, yet the occupants would climb out and figuratively go, "Shew." Still, it doesn't matter because the movie has planted a silly grin on your face that seldom leaves, let alone turn into a frown.

The plot is based on an magazine article that theorized how a cataclysmic cyberattack could bring the United States to a standstill. The aging, now divorced John McClane (Bruce Willis) gets dragged into this mess by pure accident. (Isn't it always the case?)

When the signs of the hacking first pops up at FBI headquarters in Washington, the deputy director orders senior detectives throughout the country to apprehend the most well-known hackers as the usual suspects. McClane gets assigned to pick up one Matthew Farrell (Justin Long, though I wonder if his role as a mischievous computer prankster affects his role as the Mac in the Apple TV commercials) in Camden, N.J.

Farrell recently broke some code for some mysterious people who are trying to cut the ties to the hackers they used and try to bump off Matt just as McClane arrives to pick him up. From that point on, the film doesn't let up as McClane tries to get Farrell to D.C. alive and the cyberattack escalates across the U.S.

The mastermind behind this plan turns out to be one Thomas Gabriel (Timothy Olyphant), a Richard Clarke-like figure who warned the government after 9/11 of the country's vulnerabilities to an attack such as this only to be crucified and drummed out of the government instead. It's really a quite pointed message against the Bush Administration without ever mentioning Dubya by name.

Gabriel's plan induces panic everywhere, including the stock market, prompting him to comment, "As Lenin said, useful idiots." Even though I was a huge fan of HBO's Deadwood, I never warmed to his portrayal of Seth Bullock, but when you see the actor do a great comic turn on a series such as My Name Is Earl or with cool malevolence he displays here, you really appreciate Olyphant's talents.

Long also makes a fine sidekick for Willis as a young man who never expected to be "an accessory to armageddon" and provides the essential contrast between a dinosaur such as McClane and a technophile such as Farrell. As the chaos unfolds, McClane is disbelieving at first that the government could be so ill prepared for such a cataclysm when the bad guys hijack the airwaves to ask America, "What if help will never come?" Farrell reminds him, "It took FEMA five days to get water to the Superdome."

Still, though McClane is older, balder and grimmer, he's still got a lot of the same moxie, asking to no one in particular at one point whether they think throwing a car at him would stop him. One thing that does always seem to separate McClane in all the Die Hard films, from the peerless original, to the awful second and the watchable third installment, is that he actually shows the evidence of the turmoil he's embroiled in.

As the understandably frightened Farrell asks McClane at one point how he can be such a hero, McClane laments that you don't get anything for being a hero.

In addition to Long, Willis and Olyphant, there also are good performances by Maggie Q as one of the cyberbaddies, Mary Elizabeth Winstead as McClane's estranged now-college age daughter and a funny cameo by Kevin Smith as a hacker extraordinaire who resides in a bunker in his mother's basement.

One concern I had going in was that the film's PG-13 would remove some of the edge off the series, but it really doesn't affect it much, even if McClane's signature line's expletive is muffled a bit at the end.

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Yeah, I enjoyed this film so much that I might not even mind a... 5th Die Hard film. As long as they don't take another 12 years to make one.
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