MovieMantz Review: 'Live Free Or Die Hard'

by Scott Mantz

“Live Free or Die Hard”
Starring: Bruce Willis, Justin Long, Timothy Olyphant
Directed by: Len Wiseman

Nineteen years after the first film turned Bruce Willis into a movie star, the time has come for the “Die Hard” series to play dead.

Don't get me wrong — for a third sequel to a classic movie that came out back when Ronald Reagan was still President, “Live Free or Die Hard” is actually much better than it deserves to be. But it's still a far cry from the 1988 original, which changed the face of action movies and spawned a host of imitators, like “Speed” (“Die Hard” on a bus) and “Passenger 57” (“Die Hard” on a plane). Nor does it come close to its predecessors — 1990's “Die Hard 2: Die Harder” or 1995's “Die Hard with a Vengeance” — but for a summer blockbuster, it delivers the goods. Just, please, no more “Die Hard” movies, okay?

As the nation prepares for the big Fourth of July weekend, a former government employee named Thomas Gabriel (Timothy Olyphant) is about to celebrate with his own set of fireworks. Using a team of computer-savvy technicians, he plans to teach Americans a lesson by shutting down the whole power grid. He thinks he has all his digital bases covered, but he never accounted for an analog dinosaur like Detective John McClane (Bruce Willis). With the reluctant help of a young computer hacker (Justin Long), McClane once again rises to the occasion in his efforts to save the day — that is, until Gabriel kidnaps his young daughter (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and makes it personal.

In many ways, “Live Free or Die Hard” (or “Die Hard 4.0,” as it is known internationally), has more in common with the first movie than the others in the series. Once again, McClane develops a relationship with one of the good guys, and he taunts his sharp-dressed adversary with hokey one-liners over a walkie-talkie. The major exception is that “Live Free” is rated PG-13, while its predecessors were rated R. It's hard to tell the difference, since it goes from one action-packed set piece to the next, and McClane delivers his famous “Yippee-Ki-Yay” catchphrase in a clever way that won't get him into trouble with the MPAA ratings board.

The problem is that the script (written by Mark Bomback) is weak, and the story (by Bomback with David Marconi) takes far too long to take shape. When it finally does, it's not very interesting, and none of the characters are fully defined — not even the main villain, who pales in comparison to the first film's Hans Gruber (expertly played by Alan Rickman). Even John McClane is a bit under-written, although the filmmakers probably went with the assumption that people already know him well enough after all these years.

But director Len Wiseman (“Underworld”) tries to cover up the story's shortcomings by pumping up the action to an increasingly ridiculous level. It's one thing to see McClane use a car to destroy an airborne helicopter, but it's another thing to see him drive an SUV through a building and down an elevator shaft. If that doesn't stretch the boundaries of credibility, then just wait until McClane uses a truck to outwit a fighter jet on a highway overpass. But as silly as these action scenes are, there's something more practical about them when compared to the computer-generated special effects that saturated the likes of “Spider-Man 3” and “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End.”

Where other action films seem like relics of a bygone era, at least “Live Free or Die Hard” embraces John McClane as the only relic who can save the day. And truth be told, there's something to be said about seeing Bruce Willis reprise his iconic role — in a post 9/11 world, his “right man at the wrong place at the wrong time” is a sight for sore eyes. But if 52-year-old Willis did have one more “Die Hard” left in him, then this is clearly it.

Now it's time for Detective John McClane to turn in his cinematic badge once and for all, but not before giving it one for the road. So for the last time, “Yippee-Ki-Yay?” — well, you know the rest.

VERDICT: SEE IT!

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