Wheezy wise guy is still up for mayhem

Posted: June 27, 2007

Oh no, not another cyber-thriller: the urgent clickety-clack of computer keyboards, frantic geeks thumbing their PDAs, evil Web wizards deploying viral downloads, server farms put out of service by a dastardly ring of digital terrorists.

And who's going to save the day? John McClane, that two-fisted, old-school New York City cop from a trio of vintage Die Hards, that's who. The guy probably doesn't even own a PC.

In Live Free or Die Hard, the fourth installment in Bruce Willis' blow-'em-up blockbuster franchise - and the first in 12 long years - gigabytes and fisticuffs collide. The result: pretty much what you'd expect.

The action kicks off when McClane is dispatched in the dead of night to pick up a Camden hacker wanted by the Feds. It's Independence Day weekend, and the FBI, short on staff, calls in a favor. John McClane (not to be confused with a certain two-fisted, old school presidential candidate) has been stalking his college-age daughter (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), making sure she's behaving herself - and that her date is behaving himself - when the assignment comes in.

So it's off to Camden, where ace hacker Matt Farrell (Justin Long) lives, and where a band of French thugs are about to blow him to smithereens. Luckily, McClane gets there first - just before the subtitles read "kill him!"

Let the ammo, and the automobiles - and the jokes about how ancient and out of touch McClane is - fly.

Live Free or Die Hard, directed in workmanlike style by Underworld: Evolution's Len Wiseman, has its share of wild stunts and spectacular carnage, but it feels pokey and predictable, too. Willis, with his shaved noggin and smug mug, commandeers cars and copters, improvising various life-saving and death-causing escapes (fire hydrants as projectiles, elevator shafts as places to park a car). He unleashes massive amounts of automatic weapons fire, and even engages in some kickboxing with Maggie Q. (The Hong Kong star does the martial arts stuff - McClane just waits until he can plant a solid uppercut.)

Timothy Olyphant, playing a disgruntled ex-Defense Department cyber-security expert, is the ringleader of the team of computer nerds and Frenchy henchmen bent on bringing America's electronic infrastructure down, thereby causing mass chaos and facilitating the theft of millions of 401(k) plans. Come July 5, the country will not only be broken - it'll be broke.

Long, who looks - and acts - like Keanu Reeves' kid brother, tags along with Willis. The two trade insults ("You're like a Timex watch in a digital age" the Kid tells McClane) and sneer contemptuously at the bureaucratic ineptitude of the FBI (headed by Cliff "Get me a secure line!" Curtis).

Too long, too loud and lacking in good lines (the Timex crack is typical), Live Free or Die Hard does its job. It's the movie equivalent of a cop on the eve of retirement: he knows what he has to do, and he gets it done. But his heart isn't really in it anymore.

Live Free Or Die Hard **1/2 (Out of four stars)

Directed by Len Wiseman, written by Mark Bomback, based on an article by John Carlin, photography by Simon Duggan, distributed by Twentieth Century Fox.

Running time: 2 hours, 10 mins.

John McClane............Bruce Willis Matt Farrell. . . Justin Long

Gabriel. . . Timothy Olyphant

Lucy..... Mary Elizabeth Winstead

Mai. . . Maggie Q

Parent's guide: PG-13 (violence, profanity, cyber stuff, adult themes)

Playing at: area theaters

Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or srea@phillynews.com. Read his blog, "On Movies Online," at http://go.philly.com/onmovies.

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