Review: ‘Live Free or Die Hard’

With an infectious laugh when he blows up the bad guys and the power to stay alive no matter what, Bruce Willis’ John McClane is a welcome sight back in theaters.

After a sudden computer crash at the Department of Homeland Security, computer crackers are being systematically rounded up for questioning. Matt Farrell (Justin Long) is one such geek, and John McClane (Bruce Willis) has been tasked with bringing him in. Faster than you can say, “Yippe Kai Yay,” bad guys are shooting at and trying to blow up our unfortunate heroes while computers in charge of traffic control, financial markets, and utilities are shutting down all over America. Is it really computer terrorism or something more sinister? Only soon-to-be-killed-off bad guy Thomas Gabriel (Timothy Olyphant) knows for sure.

Is it any wonder that M. Night Shyamalan chose Bruce Willis to play the invulnerable star of Unbreakable? The fun of the Die Hard films has always been blue-collar everyman beat-cop McClane willing to do the borderline vigilante thing with no regard for his own safety other than to kill the bad guy. Throw in a triumphant laugh after each over-the-top stunt and you have the perfect summer blockbuster. Underworld franchise director Len Wiseman seems to have the pulse of what made the first two Die Hard films so successful, stepping up the stunt sequences from the more timid third franchise film.

Along with the story of a man who cannot be killed, the stunt sequences and set pieces are what Die Hard is all about, getting the hero into not one but several layers of jeopardy before pulling the pin and watching everything explode. From traffic tunnels and highway overpasses to more intimate elevator shafts and underground facilities, there’s always something dangerous and potentially explosive just within reach for McClane to kill someone off with (and the bad guys always deserve it). Yes, they’re over the top, but that’s what we love about them, and now that it’s getting harder to tell what’s real and what’s computer generated, Die Hard looks more dangerous than ever.

Computer-geek Justin Long (along with an appearance by Kevin Smith) makes a perfect foil for McClane’s streetwise banter, creating a mix of technobabble and brawling that keeps the plot moving full-speed ahead. Maggie Q also gives McClane the opportunity to spar one-on-one with a tough little “martial arts chick.” With no time to think too hard about what’s going on and only seconds to decide whether or not anything is believable, the best thing to do is relent and enjoy the show.

(a three skull out of four recommendation)

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