Live Free or Die Hard is an over-the-top, fun rampage.
Moviegoers often have to suspend their disbelief to relate to a movie. They have to accept the unbelievable, even, at times, the ridiculous, to enjoy themselves. But the movie has to earn their suspension of disbelief. Live Free or Die Hard earns it.
It's full of ridiculous moments -- no, ridiculous sequences.
The scene where John McClane (Bruce Willis) brings a fighter jet down with his bare hands is something even David against Goliath wouldn't try. A car plummeting down an elevator shaft? No problem.
The kick-butt fight between McClane and the Asian dynamo villainess (Maggie Q) goes beyond the limits of time and space. McClane falls about three stories, gets up, brushes himself off. It would kill a mortal man, but this is John McClane.
What redeems the hysterical scenes is that Live Free or Die Hard is grounded much of the time. What grounds it most is the human, personal relationship between McClane and a young computer wiz Matt Farrell (Justin Long). McClane is the weathered, old pro, and Farrell is the smart novice who learns on the run.
They are different generations and different sensibilities, but they are symbiotic. They have chemistry. They're both clever, and they're trying to survive together. They need each other.
Live Free or Die Hard is about a plot set into action by a vengeful former employee of the Department of Defense, Thomas Gabriel (Timothy Olyphant). Gabriel and his hirelings are going to shut down the electronic intrastructure of the U.S. over the 4th of July. They plan to make the country helpless against whatever nefarious plan they have.
McClane is ordered to pick up Matthew Farrell, as the government is rounding up computer hackers who may know something about why the electronic system is beginning to show problems. When McClane reaches Farrell, they're attacked by Gabriel's men, and the pyrotechnics begin.
What has served Willis well in several of his films is that he has found a crucial ingredient to the recipe for entertainment. Willis is the hero, but the key is the novice who gets involved. In 16 Blocks, it was Mos Def; in Die Hard: With a Vengeance, it was Samuel L. Jackson; and in Live Free or Die Hard, it is Justin Long.
Willis has said that John Wayne (in Red River and The Searchers) is one of the influences for John McClane. In Red River, Wayne's younger sidekick was Montgomery Clift. In The Searchers, it was Jeffrey Hunter. They gave Wayne someone to relate to -- with authority.
It's been 19 years since the first Die Hard, and 12 years since the third installment. The fourth time out -- Live Free or Die Hard -- Willis still has energy and flair.
Justin Long, who just turned 29, makes a fine foil for Willis. As Matt Farrell, he is boyish, personable, and appealing. Timothy Olyphant (TV's Deadwood) makes a suitable villain, and Maggie Q is effective as the whirlwind villainess, Mai. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is winsome and feisty as McClane's estranged daughter Lucy.
Director Len Wiseman (two Underworld movies) keeps the pedal down on action, sometimes careening off the road of credibility. But he allows room for characters.
The screenplay by Mark Bomback helps with some nice lines. Matt says to Lucy, "I know that tone. It's just weird hearing it coming from someone with hair."
When one of Gabriel's computer experts asks about the guns around him, Gabriel says, "Just think of them as hardware with your software."
All in all, Live Free or Die Hard is grounded enough to allow it to go to incredible lengths of action. Yippie-ki-yah. It's one unbelievable but fun ride.
For a change of pace, you might want to listen to interviews that I conducted in the 70s and 80s, some of which were published in my book Voices from the Set: The Film Heritage Interviews (2000).
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