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Category:    Home > Reviews > Action > Live Free Or Die Hard (Theatrical Film Review)

Live Free Or Die Hard (Theatrical Film Review)


Stars: Bruce Willis, Justin Long, Timothy Olyphant, Cliff Curtis, Maggie Q

Director: Len Wiseman

Critic's rating: 4 out of 10


Review by Chuck O'Leary


It's doubtful that if Bruce Willis hadn't starred in so many flops in recent years that he'd be doing a fourth Die Hard at this point, a full 12 years since the last one played in theaters.  But he's had a lot more misses than hits lately and he's back for another go-around as wisecracking one-man-anti-terrorist-unit John McClane -- hey send this guy to Iraq or Afghanistan.


The first Die Hard was a highly entertaining surprise from the summer of 1988 about a New York cop who single-handedly defeats a squad of extortionists/terrorists in a Los Angeles high rise.  It marked a career high for director John McTiernan, who has proven time and time again since  that he's quite overrated.  The film also made a movie star out of TV star Bruce Willis, and spawned two hokey, considerably less thrilling sequels in the '90s; Renny Harlin helmed the overwrought Die Hard 2: Die Harder (1990) and McTiernan returned to direct the incredibly forgettable third installment, Die Hard With A Vengeance (1995), to little effect.


Die Hard was also responsible for revolutionizing the action genre for the next ten years, creating an entire subgenre of action film about a lone man taking on group of heavily armed extortionists/terrorists.  Under Siege, Passenger 57, Cliffhanger, Sudden Death, The Rock and Air Force One are just some of the subsequent films obviously inspired by Die Hard.


The formula was wearing thin long before a little event called 9/11 happened, a real-life catastrophe that immediately made all the aforementioned titles relics of a bygone era.  But instead of taking a cue from True Lies, a hit '90s action film that's now more relevant than ever, Hollywood has continued making the same kind of safe pre-9/11 escapism while refusing to acknowledge where the real threat is coming from; it's a matter of political correctness and Hollywood's political agenda.


We saw it last year in the horrid Déjà Vu, in which a disgruntled former American patriot gone bad is the film's terrorist villain, and we see it once again in Live Free Or Die Hard, a film that mentions 9/11 several times, but conveniently and cowardly (just like Déjà Vu) never even mentions al-Qaida as a suspect, when al-Qaida or some other Islamic extremist group would obviously be an immediate suspect if all the electricity in America was ever shut down.


Just like Jim Caviezel in Déjà Vu (yeah, knowing Hollywood, I'm sure the guy who played Jesus is the perfect embodiment of a terrorist), the fourth Die Hard has another white guy (Timothy Olyphant) as its terrorist arch-villain, clearly the kind of phony PC move that's killing movies nowadays.  His henchmen are a mixed ethnic lot, consisting of several Europeans, an attractive Asian woman skilled in kung fu (Maggie Q) and one guy who seems vaguely Middle Eastern, though you can bet the house that it's never mentioned explicitly.  It's probably not a coincidence that a dark-skinned New Zealand-born actor (Cliff Curtis), who could easily pass for an Arab and has played Arabs in other films, is cast as the sympathetic head FBI agent -- am I the only one who notices all the politically correct nuttiness in contemporary movies?


Olyphant, who played the sheriff on Deadwood, is cast as Thomas Gabriel, a former U.S. online security expert who warned the government that the country's computerized security was outdated and pleaded for upgrades.  Instead of heeding his warnings, however, the government ignored him and then fired him.  But instead of taking his story to 60 Minutes, Gabriel went psycho and will now use his very knowledge of the system he helped design to bring America to a standstill.  With the assistance of fellow hackers, he'll blackout all three of America's power grids to shut off all electricity from coast to coast, causing mass chaos while extorting billions for himself.


On top of being a safe, phony villain, Gabriel is also a thoroughly generic villain who's a long way from Alan Rickman's hissable chief heavy in the first one.


Now enter our hero, John McClane.  He's now divorced and estranged from his two kids, including a teenage daughter named Lucy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) who doesn't have much affection for dear old dad.  And like the actor playing him, McClane has noticeably less hair on his head than when we first met him.  The film opens with McClane, still a NYPD cop, being assigned to pick up a computer hacker on behalf of the FBI.  It turns out to be a college student named Matt Ferrell (Justin Long), who knows all there is to know about everything high-tech.  Just after McClane arrives at Matt's apartment, the young man is targeted by men with machine guns sent by Gabriel.  From this point on, Matt becomes McClane's sidekick as they're propelled from one extreme situation after another.  There's lots of gunfire and big explosions and lots of nameless henchmen who bite the dust, but since this one is PG-13 (much to the chagrin of many fans), few blood squibs are used.  There are also too many shots of information being typed on to computer screens, something that's never particularly exciting.


Written without any regard for reality by Mark Bomback, and directed by Len Wiseman, whose only two previous credits are two abysmal Underworld movies, this fourth Die Hard is well paced and boasts a few imaginative action sequences, but can't suspend our disbelief because it takes place in a PC fantasy world.  Another annoying thing about the film is how it panders to the youth market by purposely inserting teenyboppers played by Long and Winstead, and casting writer/director/hipster Kevin Smith as an eccentric computer geek for comic relief.  Apparently the powers that be feel Bonnie Bedelia is now too old now to reappear as McClane's ex-wife.  Ditto for William Atherton, who played the irritating, pompous news reporter in the first two.


Live Free Or Die Hard is the third weak sequel in a creaky franchise that should have remained dormant.  Hopefully Indiana Jones and John Rambo will have better luck next year when their creaky franchises are resurrected with belated fourth installments.


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