Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The review

After weeks of dogging the film, and days of swearing I just wasn't that interested, I firmly held my ground on not seeing Live Free or Die Hard - well, at least until the very first showing of the film's very first day.

My dad and I share an undying love for the 1988 original, and he offered to treat me to the 12:10 show and a medium Diet Coke. So I obviously couldn't turn him down. And two hours and ten minutes later, he had his three-word review ready to go: "Silly, but cute."

So that might be all you need to know: the fourth Die Hard movie can be thought of as "cute." The series that started with the most successfully balls-to-the-wall, mind-blowing, genre-busting, gut-wrenching action movie of all time has now, 19 years later, become "cute." But hey, it also happened with Lethal Weapon. It happened with Mad Max. It happened with Indiana Jones. And now it has happened with John McClane. He has a Case of the Cutes.

The surprise, though: it still ain't that bad. In fact, standing on its own two feet - and not held up to comparison with the original - Live Free or Die Hard is a pretty damn good action movie. It is exciting, funny, creative at times, and most importantly, it doesn't embarrass itself. It even managed to put most of my most overblown fears to rest. To wit:

1) The PG-13 rating. Sure, it's a bit off-putting not to hear John McClane say "fuck" at least twice a sentence, but I can't say I missed it terribly much. In fact, if I hadn't gone in with the rating in my head, I probably wouldn't have noticed a difference in this and the last two sequels. The semi-clever way they got around explicitly saying "Yippie-ki-yay, motherfucker" was a little bristling - but only a little. Still, the film's unwillingness to be profane and bloody is, without my dad's conscious realization, where the dreaded "c" word comes from.

2) The sidekick. Yes, it's the Mac guy, Justin Long. To be honest, I wasn't as worried about him as others have been. He was fun in Galaxy Quest and Accepted, and the role of "computer nerd" suits him well. He's no Al Powell. He's no Samuel L. Jackson. But who is? Let's put to rest, though, the rumblings he will eventually take over the Die Hard series as his own.

3) Kevin Smith. Yes, the Clerks director has an extended cameo as a Hacker Extraordinaire, and yes, his inclusion in the trailer was extremely grating. Fortunately, it does kinda-sorta make sense with the plot, and the good will built up before the scene made it forgivable.

4) The director. For some reasons, the producers hired music video helmer Len Wiseman, best known for Underworld and its sequel (neither of which I've seen.) I hadn't heard particularly kind things about his vampire films, and couldn't understand why they chose him to continue this cherished franchise. And to be honest, I still don't. He's competent at best - too in love with the close-up, and a little forced with any non-action scene (let's just say exposition ain't his strong suit.) I'm all for Die Hard 5, but let's hand those reins to someone else.

So Willis's recent claim this is better than the original is delusional. It's a solid piece of summer entertainment, and if that's what you're looking for, stop reading here and enjoy yourself. You definitely will. The rest of this review is for those of you who can't pretend that when you put the words "Die" and "Hard" together, the product shouldn't be held up to the impossible standard of the original. In this regard, I have one criticism:

Simply put, the John McClane of Live Free or Die Hard isn't the same John McClane of the original. The first Die Hard was powered by the fact McClane was an everyman, an ordinary guy stuck in an extraordinary situation. In each succeeding film, McClane has slowly turned into a comic book hero. In this latest installment, the guy is jumping off of planes, launching cars into helicopters, and blithely shaking off bullet wounds and three-story falls. And, truth be told, he's sorta dumb - not bothering to whisper with bad guys around, driving cars down elevator shafts when he could have just hit the brakes 10 seconds sooner, not thinking ahead to thwart the oh-so-obvious third act "twist," etc. This isn't the same guy who taped an extra gun to his back, tossed explosives down an elevator shaft, or went to the roof to get the best reception. It's just not.

If you go in expecting a film on par with the original - as Willis has led us to believe - you'll walk out feeling let down (like you have with the two previous sequels, most likely.) Like I said, though, leave your memories of Hans Gruber and Co. in the parking lot, and enjoy the fu - uh, the hell out of the summer's latest, and best, superhero flick.

1 comment:

Doug said...

Saw it Saturday afternoon with the parents. Totally over-the-top, of course -- when they brought the F-35 fighter jet in, part of me was like, "Oh, come on, now." But it was still a lot of fun. Even my mom, who I think would've rather seen "Ratatouille," fuckin' loved it.