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06/27/2007 - LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD


It's been twelve years since the last DIE HARD movie, but though Bruce Willis, once again playing the wisecracking New York cop John McClane, remains a fit and physically agile action hero at fifty-two (with able help from his stunt double, of course), the rest of the franchise hasn't aged quite so well.

(Warning: Spoilers Ahead!)

Written by Mark Bomback and directed by Len Wiseman (UNDERWORLD and UNDERWORLD: EVOLUTION), LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD does freshen up what has become a tired formula (The Right Man in the Wrong Place at the Wrong Time) in some ways: the plot is a very topical one involving cyber terrorism; Willis is given a young computer geek sidekick (Justin Long) for the teen/twenty-something crowd; the action sequences are often quite inventive, with Willis using a police cruiser to take down a helicopter and evading a jet fighter as it literally demolishes the major freeway he's driving on.

But too much of the film still feels musty. Major plot points are regurgitated from both DIE HARD and DIE HARD WITH A VENGEANCE (the villain uses the threat of terrorism to distract the authorities from his real goal - a heist) and from two knock-offs of the DIE HARD franchise, UNDER SIEGE and UNDER SIEGE 2 (the villain used to work for the government but after being betrayed by his own bosses, turns against them for fun and profit). And with the exception of the chief antagonist played by a colorless Timothy Olyphant, the bad guys in LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD are the same Eurotrash/Foreign mercenary types we've seen before in DIE HARD and DIE HARD WITH A VENGEANCE. One of those bad guys is a Frenchman whose talent for bouncing around the room like an acrobat is much too reminiscent of the free-running villain in last year's CASINO ROYALE. The heavy kidnapping the hero's loved one and holding her hostage as a bargaining chip (this time Willis' daughter instead of his wife as in DIE HARD) is also a timeworn device.

Formulaic plotting isn't the only drawback in this latest chapter of the John McClane saga. The original DIE HARD was certainly an action film, but it was at least a fairly realistic one, as Regular Guy Willis defeated the bad guys in ordinary, down-to-earth ways (shooting them to death, beating them silly, outwitting them mentally, etc.). But in LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD, Willis is more of a superman than anything else, performing feats so incredible the movie borders on fantasy: Willis knocks a guy from a moving helicopter using spray from a broken fire hydrant; Willis jumps onto a spinning, pilotless jet fighter and isn't bucked from the plane, etc. Even for an action movie, this is hard to swallow, keeping us from suspending our disbelief. Scenes like this also turn the McClane character into a cartoon, reducing suspense since cartoons after all can't really be hurt.

LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD has its moments, but not quite enough to justify making DIE HARD 5.

Responses, comments and general two-cents worth can be E-mailed to gillis662000@yahoo.com.

(Note: For all those who missed my past reviews, they're archived on Hollywoodlitsales.com. Just click the link on the main page and it'll take you to the Inner Sanctum. Love them or Hate them at your leisure!)

A graduate of USC's School of Cinema-Television, Tom McCurrie has worked as a development executive, story analyst, screenwriter and teacher of screenwriting. He lives in Los Angeles and is finally finishing up a really awesome novel.


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