If you're worn out by the relentless parade of movie heroes sporting tights or transforming into robots, good news currently awaits you at the theater: Live Free or Die Hard, a physical, action-packed antidote to comic book movies, which is the fourth chapter in the cinematic adventures of Detective John McClane. Having already survived Germans at Nakatomi Plaza, revolutionaries at Dulles Airport, and more Germans in New York City, McClane (Bruce Willis) is once again in the wrong place at the right time, as his simple task morphs into yet another odds-defying assignment. (Audio review here.)

Willis brings back his familiar character with a pitch-perfect blend of world-weariness and cocksure attitude. While he's saving the country, McClane has an innate ability to blend comedy with capability, willingly hurling unsavory nicknames and spewing determined anger rather than blandly yet skillfully executing his mission. Live Free separates itself from traditional action/adventure movies by organically working the humor into the fabric of the movie, rather than lazily relying on comic relief characters or contrived situations. Justin Long, perhaps most recognizable as the Mac guy in Apple's television ads, plays off Willis well as he is sucked into the chaotic events, with a defensive sarcasm and semi-rebellious side that effectively embody his role as a twenty-something computer hacker.

The comedy isn't the selling point of the Live Free though. The trailer promised huge effects, and the movie delivers in a BIG way. Oversized vehicles ranging from semi trucks to fighter jets are involved in adrenaline-pumping confrontations, and of equal importance, they bob and weave in relatively sensible ways. As opposed to the incomprehensible massive chaos of Transformers, there is an elegance to the action here. It's still over-the-top, but in an linear, choreographed manner that is easily followed and relished. Even though many of the stunts undoubtedly use CGI, the old-school physicality provides a sharp and enjoyable contrast to the digital attack the enemy is unleashing on the United States, as well as the cartoon-ish nature of many comic book movies.

Live Free has its share of improbability, as characters survive dangerous falls and endure endless physical abuse, and the technology sometimes seems all too easy. But in a movie like this, such conveniences are accepted if not expected as part of the genre. This isn't a serious Oscar contender with grand themes or undertones; it's summertainment, a popcorn movie designed as a diverting escape. In that regard it succeeds wildly, inducing winces, yells, and cheers from the audience.

One interesting note is that this rendition of Die Hard is rated ''only" PG-13, no doubt in an attempt to lure the lucrative teenage demographic. Some will be outraged by this apparent neutering of a franchise that was largely defined through the the R-rating earned by the pervasive vulgarities of the first three installments. Even the signature line (Yippee-ki-yay...) is obscured by sound effects. On one hand it's disappointing that Hollywood acquiesced to the almighty dollar. On the other hand the absence of a constant barrage of language is scarcely missed, as McClane's aggressive attitude is still intact, accompanied by plenty of derogatory terms that are not quite as profane. Maybe he mellowed with age.

Bottom Line: The best action movie so far this year. A rock solid 7 of 10.


the Opinionator said...

8/10 better than MI:3

Prince of Spades said...

Yes, better than M-I:3, and Casino Royale. And slightly better than Transformers. Maybe I should give it an eight on the action movie scale.

TBCJim said...

"A rock-solid 7"? "A rock-solid 7"?? Pawl-dawg, what does it take to squeeze an 8 or 9 out of you? You're the Bulgarian judge when an American ice skater finishes a perfect routine. Back up and take another run at that movie; it's a rock-solid TEN if I've ever seen one. And if you make it a double-feature with Transformers, it jumps to 20.