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Monday, July 02, 2007

Movie Review - Live Free Or Die Hard

Yippie-Ki-Yay, bitchez!

Truth In Blogging Disclaimer: I love Die Hard. No, really. I so completely love the movie Die Hard. When it came out in 1988 and I thought it was the greatest movie ever made. I have since softened on this stance, but to this very day it holds up pretty well. It's really a modern American classic and, in my opinion, the pinnacle of 80's action movies. It spawned millions of dollars worth of big money Hollywood copycats. Pitch meetings in LA were built around a one sentence Mad Lib. "It's like Die Hard, but _________ (preposition) a ______ (noun) starring ________(actor)". "On" + "Bus" + "Keanu Reeves" = "Speed". "In" + "Airplane" + "Wesley Snipes" = "Passenger 57". "On" + "Mountain" + "Sly Stallone" = "Cliffhanger". "With" + "Beer gut and ponytail" + "Steven Seagal" = "Under Siege". Etc., etc., etc. Predictably, none of these matched the original but the truth of the matter is clear. Die Hard was as groundbreaking as any enormous blockbuster popcorn movie can be. This love and devotion may very well pollute my analysis of the movie. I may either be harder on the latest or I may be more forgiving. So, take what I write next in the light of a Die Hard fan. (End disclaimer).

As this movie is a Die Hard film, it needs to be measured with respect to the original. So, I will identify the basic qualities that made the original great and measure Live Free by that standard. Additionally, I will rank each of the 4 movies by their relative achievement in each facet.

Standard #1: John McClane Character
The First One and This Movie: John McClane still kicks ass, even as the actor who plays him ages. Now 52, Bruce Willis still looks like his bad-ass self and can still beat some bad guys up believably. He can throw a punch and a one-liner back to back. What always separated John McClane's character from other action heroes of the 80's and 90's was Willis' convincing portrayal of a world-weary NYC cop. This character wasn't a cartoon like Stallone's Rambo, Arnold's, well, um, everything or Van Damme's mullet. This guy looked like a regular dude and was portrayed like a regular dude - Well, a regular dude who is really unlucky and kicks a lot of ass. And, in the apparent new standard for electing presidents, he has high 'drink beer with him'-ability. He's hard to dislike. In Live Free, John McClane's character isn't exactly deepened in a meaningful way. I thought this was best done in the original, as they made time to cover his relationship with his wife, which was convincingly dysfunctional. There is a bit of interesting father-son-ish interplay between McClane and Justin Long's hacker character, Matt Farrell (You'll know Long is the "I'm a Mac" guy). But it has little depth. Unlike most action heroes, he celebrates when he whacks a bad guy the way we do watching him. He's not some steely eyed robot of determination, he's a person.

My rank in Standard #1:
1) Die Hard - the best in this regard, IMO.
2) Die Hard 3:Die Hard with a Vengeance - I loved the early, alchoholic McClane
3) Live Free Or Die Hard - Spends more time on action
4) Die Hard 2:Die Harder - Crappity crap.

Standard #2: Ass Kicking
The First One and This Movie:
Ass-Kicking is where this movie truly shines. It easily has the MOST action of any of the die-hard films. Like all sequels, it has to raise the bar. This being the third such sequel, the bar is raised to a near preposterous level. Your opinion of this will hinge on whether you feel it crossed the line into "preposterous". I thought it tap-danced on that line, and toed over it with the scene with the fighter jet (I hate spoiling action sequences, so I won't elaborate).

Again, the first movie had this completely right. This was a low-tech battle, pitting a doggedly determined hero against a group of thieves armed with a 9mm and without shoes. There was an intimacy to the conflict. Live Free is more classic big-action popcorn movie. The villians are mostly nameless and faceless, even to the extent that most of them are uniformed in all-black Swat style gear. But, it's an excellent big summer movie and the stunts and action are fantastic.

My rank in Standard #2:
1) Die Hard - Again, a classic.
2) Live Free Or Die Hard - BIG Stunts! BIG, I tell ya!
3) Die Hard 3:Die Hard with a Vengeance - Big points for the excellent scene in the elevator at the Gold Repository. Loses points for surfing on a dump truck.
4) Die Hard 2:Die Harder - Mostly just ok.

Standard #3: The Villain
The First One and This Movie:
There is one vastly underrated player in the original Die Hard. Alan Rickman. His Hans Gruber is one of the greatest screen villains of all time. He steals every scene he's in. You hate the guy AND you love the guy. He's the yin to McClane's yang. His portrayal created a stereotype villain that was repeated dozens of times. The most hilarious of these was when John Lithgow mysteriously speaking with an accent in Cliffhanger. He was so good, he was typecast in that role, reprising the evil guy again in Quigley Down Under and the pathetic Costner vehicle, Robin Hood. He was ultimately underused until he was cast as Severus Snape in the seemingly ever up-and-coming Harry Potter films. But Die Hard will likely be the signature role of his career and he was amazing.

That's a lot to live up to. Timothy Olyphant tries his hand in this movie as Thomas Gabriel, evil cyber-Terrorist. I just recently started watching the re-play of Deadwood on HBO, and really like Olyphant and he brings the same sense of intensity he does to Seth Bullock. He's very good and he has one money scene where he truly shuts up John McClane. Unfortunately, the role of cyber-terrorist is a lame one. This may be true for me because I know too much about computers to think that Seth Bullock is a cyber-terrorism expert, has a smokin' hot girlfirend and can handle a gun and kick ass. The role didn't quite work, but it wasn't because Olyphant fumbled it. He's legitimately good.

My rank in Standard #3:
1) Die Hard - Best. Villain. Evah!
2) Live Free Or Die Hard - Not bad, Bullock.
3) Die Hard 3:Die Hard with a Vengeance - Jeremy Irons sucked.
4) Die Hard 2:Die Harder - Negative points for both William Sadler's gratuitous man-ass shot when he's doing Tai Chi and for making James from Good Times into a traitor. I loved Good Times.

Standard #4: One-liners
The First One and This Movie: has already declared 'Yippie-Kai-Yay, mothafucka!" as the greatest one-liner in history. Who am I to argue. But the first movie had lots more memorable quotes. In fact, I'd wager that if you got ten random dudes at a bar, bought a couple of pitchers and got them talking Die Hard, you'd end up hearing 80% of it's IMDB quotes page recited back to you.

This movie isn't quite as good as that. In fact, no action movie is quite like that. But, it tries and often succeeds. It does so mostly because of the easy comic sensibilities of Willis, Long, Olyphant and an excellent minor role for director Kevin Smith of Clerks fame.

My rank in Standard #4:
1) Die Hard - "Yippie-Ki-Yay, motherfucka!"
2) Die Hard 2:Die Harder - (to a pre-NYPD Blue Dennis Franz)"Hey, Carmine, let me ask you something. What sets off the metal detectors first? The lead in your ass or the shit in your brains? "
3) Live Free Or Die Hard - "What are you a Goddamn Hamster?"
4) Die Hard 3:Die Hard with a Vengeance - None.

1) Die Hard
2) Live Free Or Die Hard
3) Die Hard with a Vengeance
4) Die Hard 2:Die Harder

There you have it, this movie is the best sequel and the second best overall. They all pale in comparison to the first film (which is a perfect 5 coucher). This one is a very solid movie that stands well on it's own. PLEASE NOTE: If you read the disclaimer above and also this review, you'll see that I really am a Die Hard fan. You may want to drop the rating if you don't feel the same way about the original. Also, you are wrong about the original. It's fucking great.

Rating: 4 out of 5 possible couches.