Live Free or Die Hard
Rated PG-13, 140 min. Directed by Len Wiseman. Starring Bruce Willis, Timothy Olyphant, Justin Long, Cliff Curtis, Maggie Q, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Kevin Smith.
There's something enormously comforting about watching Willis' smoldering, forever put-upon NYPD Detective John McClane as he once more brings the noise and blows the bejesus out of the bad guys. For many American moviegoers of a certain age, McClane's do-or-die heavy mettle in the 1988 original was their first cinematic encounter with terrorism on our turf; it's a long way from Alan Rickman to al Qaeda, but Willis' hero cop didn't need a Department of Homeland Security to save his bullet-etched backside. And now, nearly 20 years on, he's still getting roped into saving the world against his wishes but to our immense relief. Memo to Michael Chertoff: Scuttle the DHS bureaucracy posthaste, and get us more McClanes, please. This time out, the terror is homegrown and arrives in the impeccably tailored form of Thomas Gabriel (Olyphant), a rogue NSA computer-defense-expert-turned-whistle-blower. Having had his rep smeared by his former government masters, Gabriel sets out to prove his point and net some fast cash by shutting down the entire infrastructure of the United States, leaving its citizens discombobulated and disconnected (a prickly, panicky state well-known to anyone who's ever faced a cash-strapped ATM or attempted to finagle the VCR into displaying any time other than "12:00." Of course, in McClane's world, it's always flashing "12:00," and being an analog guy in this new digital world presents him with myriad problems, not the least of which is the fact that he probably can't figure out where the "Any Key" is.) McClane has been charged with escorting a young pasty-faced hacker (Long, the studiously hip face of Apple's recent "Mac vs. PC" ad campaign) to the feds, who are clearly overwhelmed and need all the OS X they can get. Long is the film's saving grace in the acting department. Apart from the action sequences – which I am deliriously happy to report are many and fittingly involve old-school mayhem conceived and executed by real stuntmen and even more real Detroit iron (as opposed to the usual CGI trickery) – Live Free or Die Hard's appeal rests squarely on the interplay between Long and Willis. Screenwriter Mark Bomback gives these two polar opposites plenty of semiwitty back-and-forth, and they both come out with limbs and résumés intact (if slightly scorched). Superior in every way to 1995's Die Hard With a Vengeance, Live Free or Die Hard's goofy generation-gap gambit pays off decently and proves, again, that nattily dressed terrorists are no match for Willis, the once and future patron saint of bang.
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