'Live Free' not a sequel to 'Die' for

Posted: June 27, 2007

In "Live Free or Die Hard," Bruce Willis uses a car to crush a bad guy against a dumpster and send another flying through the air to splat against a wall.

"Did you see that?" asked a terrified passenger.

"Of course I saw it," he replies, "I DID it."

Take that, computer geeks and video game voyeurs who think that virtual reality is the same as reality.

"Live Free or Die Hard" brings Willis back as tenacious police detective John McClane, this time battling a demented systems whiz (Timothy Olyphant) who's seizing the nation's electronic/computer command and control.

In this maniac's hands, technology becomes the enemy, and McLane becomes the guy who stops the elaborate hi-tech plot using two fists and a police issue sidearm (also a few squad cars, a helicopter, and some commandeered bazookas).

The action starts as NYPD detective McLane is dispatched to Camden, of all places, to detain a computer hacker named Matt (Justin Long) sought by the FBI for his connection to an alarming breach of the government's most sensitive and secure computer systems.

Matt is the quintessential computer nerd, an apartment shut-in surrounded by gadgets and childhood toys, and before taking him into custody (which turns "Midnight Run"-ish), McLane makes fun of his lifestyle, establishing the Tough Guy versus Tech Guy dynamic that drives the film.

That is, when it's not being driven by gigantic explosions. McLane arrives just as a team of assassins attempts to kill Long, a decent action sequence that displays the movie's eagerness to honor the reputation of "Die Hard" as an ass-kicking classic.

Remembering why "Die Hard" was great, though, would mean remembering that McLane was once an ordinary guy. Afraid to fly, afraid of his wife's success, outgunned by adversaries, but fatally underestimated.

Three movies later, his indestructibility has become something of a joke, and McLane has morphed into a de facto superhero, sure to survive every chopper crash and five-vehicle pile-up.

The first movie centered on how much punishment McLane could absorb - now, virtually invincible, he's become a smirking inflictor of pain, and the movie has a weird sadistic edge.

When McLane squares off against the mastermind's foxy henchwoman (Maggie Q), the poor girl is killed at least a half dozen times in a fight so brutal that he ends up clutching a handful of her hair (which strikes him as funny).

That might have worked in the original, in which the close-cropped New York cop appeared to especially enjoy killing the metrosexual Euro-villains who had pony tails, but here the whole thing feels a little Ike Turner.

As for McLane's famous resilience and resourcefulness, they're now superpowers.

In once scene, he deals with a helicopter by making clever use of a fire hydrant. The sequence has a Rube Goldberg appeal, but it's also completely ridiculous.

As for the movie's anti-technology vibe, I'm not sure it's going to be as resonant as the filmmakers hope.

McLane probably speaks on behalf of everyone who has had a close encounter with a motorist on a cell-phone, but if he wanted to do something heroic, he'd force Nintendo to make more Wiis. *

Produced by Michael Fotrell, John McTiernan, Arnold Rifkin, Bruce Willis; directed by Len Wiseman; written by Mark Bomback; music by Marco Beltrami; distributed by Twentieth Century Fox.

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