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LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD
U.S. Release Date: June 27, 2007
Distributor: Fox
Director: Len Wiseman
Writer: Mark Bomback
Composer: Marco Beltrami
Cast: Bruce Willis, Timothy Olyphant, Justin Long, Maggie Q, Cliff Curtis, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Kevin Smith
Running Time: 2 hours and 10 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (intense sequences of violence and action, language and a brief sexual situation)

Fourth Outing Nets Action and Laughs
by Scott Holleran

Surprisingly clever, humorous and thrilling, if preposterously excessive, the fourth entry in the popular Die Hard series, Live Free or Die Hard, isn't as terrible as it might have been. For an hour, it's relatively strong for this kind of movie.

Bruce Willis returns to the role he originated in 1988 in that memorable Los Angeles skyscraper potboiler about a middle-aged, barefooted policeman using only his mind—and his rebelliousness—against top criminals in an apparently impossible-to-defeat full-scale attack. He's back as John McClane, promoted to lieutenant detective, older and shadowing his college student daughter (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) at Rutgers.

That's one of several overcooked plot points, though the story has more advantages than disadvantages in that regard. The whole giddy ride teeters on camp. An attack is underway, targeting America's infrastructure by some computer-driven strike called a firesale—because everything must go—that causes breakdowns, blackouts and bank robberies, basically in that order.

As the coordinated campaign begins, and it's as murky as the other entries' treachery, McClane's on his way to pick up one of a thousand suspected hackers (scruffy Justin Long), who happens to be designated for imminent extermination by the hit squad—another motley crew—now that he's past his purpose. Crusty McClane has other ideas.

Enter the usual parade of characters—a sympathetic cop type (stern Cliff Curtis), a band of rugged villains improbably led by a sour grapes ex-fed (flat Timothy Olyphant) and bureaucratic twits—and amid the smirks, winks and witty lines, Mr. Willis, today's closest action hero to John Wayne, trots out another reluctant hero—and it works.

Grabbing the hacker twerp, the type you'd find scrawling anti-business slogans on posters at rallies, heading to Washington, D.C. per his federal orders, as the nation grinds to a functional halt, McClane recalls the original's sense of self-reliance. Not depending on the government and its Bush-era, alphabet soup bureaucracies, the frazzled cop and his young charge pop off fire extinguishers and fire hydrants to finely timed effect.

With good chemistry between Mr. Willis and Long as the hacker, who must face the consequences of his irrational actions, there are threads about interdependence—in time for America's Independence Day—and a hero being an underappreciated man who acts alone. McClane's daughter convincingly comes into play (McClane's ex, Bonnie Bedelia's Holly Gennaro, sits this one out) and it's a potent blend of the series' best elements.

Momentum is derailed when a racial stereotype—the omnipotent Asian automaton—sucks the credibility out of the picture in what feels like 15 minutes of cartoonish blasts and death blows that don't kill anyone. With unrealistic action, bad acting, fast cutting close-ups and a monochromatic look, Live Free or Die Hard loses steam.

The action is generally effective. A tunnel scene, sampled in the trailer, is thoughtfully conceived and well done, and, despite an utterly superfluous action bit with a fighter jet that looks like a cheap video game, the movie recovers. By then, the defects are on display: a lead villain with dual motives and no backbone, new character arcs late in the act and too much going on with not enough of a wrap for the whiz kid's coming of age or the college kid's coming around. But Long, Winstead, Clark and Mr. Willis pour themselves into this revival, making it overall worth the price of admission.


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Die Hard with Whine and Laughter
Rush Hour 3
Third Rush Still Fun
Terminator 3
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The Bourne Ultimatum
Third Bourne Satisfies
 


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