June 28, 2007


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Live Free or Die Hard (PG-13)
Bruce Willis suits back up for more world-saving in a landscape where damn near every single thing explodes in Live Free or Die Hard, two hours and 10 minutes of solid crazy action fun.

John McClane (Willis) is older but he’s still a wise-ass complaining about his lot out of the side of his mouth. After breaking up daughter Lucy’s (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) romantic interlude in her sort-of boyfriend’s car, he’s prepared to turn in for the night when headquarters tells him that the FBI needs help picking up suspects. Seems their computers were recently hacked and they want to bring in the small Hot Pocket-eating crowd they think could have pulled it off.

Matt Farrell (Justin Long) is McClane’s charge and lucky thing for Matt. Not only does McClane’s knock at the door keep Matt from hitting the key on his keyboard that would have caused the computer to explode (an explosion that turned other hackers into just stains on their Star Wars posters) but McClane knows how to spring into action when large-rifle-shooting assassins show up to do the job that the computer bomb didn’t.

McClane heads with Matt to FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C., where they find the town tangled up in traffic problems due to lights which have all turned green at once. Then, anthrax alarms empty public buildings. Then computers, phones and other devices stop working.

It’s a fire sale, says Mac, I mean, Matt. What’s a fire sale, says analog McClane. It’s when some bad guy (Timothy Olyphant) decides to shut down everything, all at once.

Why would some bad guy do this? Well, there are many reasons but I’m going to cut to the chase and just say money. He does it for money.

Naturally, the entire U.S. government whimpers like a scared kitten in the face of such naughtiness but Matt and McClane are able to muscle their way on a scavenger hunt across the East Coast to find and “deal with” the assorted badies that stand between them and a not-crashed world.

Along the way, they form the kind of bond that a Boomer guy’s guy and an Xer computer geek could only form when they’re joining together to save the world (and also Lucy’s daughter, because frankly, where’s the urgency in saving the world?). Matt slowly learns to find a bit of his inner McClane and McClane learns, well, nothing because this is his action vehicle and he doesn’t need to learn anything.

Live Free or Die Hard is absolutely preposterous. Computers can be programmed remotely to explode. A car is able to gain enough air to take out a helicopter. Justin Long, best known for playing the smug personification of Mac computers, is treated like a plausible action movie sidekick. Preposterous.

Also, awesome.

I laughed big throaty laughs — guffaws perhaps you’d call them — throughout this movie. It’s a laugh in the same family as the laugh-screams you’d make on a roller coaster or the incoherent cheers you make when your team scores a goal (or, if you’re a nerd like me, when your favorite cook wins the quickfire challenge on Top Chef). Live Free or Die Hard is big, crazy stupid fun. It’s one of the few movies I’ve seen this summer that topped two hours without feeling like it exceeded 90 minutes.

Every bit of this movie was designed for maximum silly — the dialogue, the assorted puzzles that Matt and McClane find themselves in (How do you get out? Explosions and punching.), Olyphant’s “acting.” It’s all so absurd and yet all so delightful. I saw this movie in a theater full of hardened film critics and the guy behind me made audible “whoas” and “yeas” throughout. You can’t help but get into the ka-boomy spirit of this movie.

Is Live Free as good as the other Die Hards? Is Bruce Willis too old to be beating up the bad guy’s girlfriend and jumping off crumbling bridges? Is Kevin Smith’s cameo just gilding the lily of this movie’s self-conscious winking at the audience? These are questions for another day. A day when you can not just go to the theater and plunk down your $8 and get a full-force example of every glorious thing a popcorn action movie is meant to be. B+

Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, language and a brief sexual situation. Directed by Len Wiseman and written by Mark Bomback and David Marconi (from an article called “A Farewell to Arms” and based on characters by Roderick Thorp), Live Free or Die Hard is two hours and 10 minutes of pulse-pounding action and will open in wide release on June 27. It is distributed by 20th Century Fox.