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Wednesday, June 27, 2007


ModFab On...Live Free or Die Hard

Starring Bruce Willis, Timothy Olyphant, Justin Long, Maggie Q, Cliff Curtis and Kevin Smith
Written by Mark Bomback
Directed by Len Wiseman
2 Hours, 8 minutes
Twentieth Century Fox
Trailers - Showtimes - Soundtrack

No one is more surprised than I am to be writing a positive review of Live Free or Die Hard, the fourth installment in the John McClane action franchise. The machismo required to enjoy Bruce Willis' bonecrushing spectacles isn't usually my thing. But there's something actually refreshing about this old-school entertainment, a superbly-constructed thriller that eschews (up until the last few minutes, at least) the fake plasticity of CGI action sequences, employing instead traditional stunwork and actual car crashes. Because it's only when you see McClane drive a real car into a real wall to kill a bad guy that you realize how anemically impotent Spider-Man and our superhero-obsessed movie culture is...how in the name of fantasy, movies have lost the magic of authentic experience (faked or not). Live Free or Die Hard may not be the greatest film in history, but it's undoubtedly the best sequel of the season, and the only summer blockbuster to actually deliver the thrills it promises in its trailer. For that, I'll gladly stand up and applaud.

"You're a Timex watch in a digital age," one character says to McClane early in the film...and the ethos of old vs. new informs Live Free or Die Hard in nearly every frame. The story involves internet techno-terrorism, with a madman known as Gabriel (Timothy Olyphant) shutting down America's computer networks; McClane, for his part, can barely work a cell phone. The villains are all experts in martial arts; McClane is prefers doling out knuckle sandwiches. He even prefers classic rock -- Credence Clearwater Revival, to be specific. In this fourth film, John McClane becomes nothing less than a retrogressive, retrofitted icon; unadorned and simple, brutally back-to-basic, he's an action hero for an America uncomfortable with the rapid changes of the new millennium. And haven't we all felt that way, from time to time?

Willis, for his part, is clearly loving it...and aging beautifully for an action star. Worn down and a bit haggard, he's a working-man's Sean Connery, a blunt object masquerading as a vigilante police detective. He's got a marvelous foil this time around in Matt Farrell (Justin Long), a computer hacker that McClane must deliver safely to the FBI. There's also a terrific cameo by director Kevin Smith (Clerks) before the movie finally loses the courage of its convictions in the last ten minutes -- a big-rig vs. army fighter jet sequence dissolves under its own sheer implausibility. (And finally, yes...bad CGI.)

But before that, there's enough car chases, elevator shaft battles, and explosions to satisfy any theatregoer's vicarious bloodlust. Live Free or Die Hard may be old-school, but it's a surprisingly enjoyable trip back. If more movies looked at the past like this one to learn the lessons of their predecessors, Hollywood might be a much more entertaining place nowadays.

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