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Living free for a 'Die-Hard': At 52, Willis still ends up in the wrong place at the wrong time

Reeling It In

Posted: Thursday, July 05, 2007

"Live Free or Die Hard"

20th Century Fox

2 hours, 10 minutes

For a sequel-packed summer, it shouldn't be surprising to find an entry in the high-action genre, but the last time Bruce Willis signed on to become the John-McClane-Punching-Bag was 1995 — 12 years ago. So what could bring the "Die-Hard" series out of retirement? I don't know, probably the same thing that brought "Rocky" out, and what is currently motivating work on a new "Rambo."

Is it money? Surely not. You'd think these 1980s action icons would have plenty. Of course, in interviews they always say it's the script. "Yeah, I always said I'd do it again if I could just find a script I liked, and then my agent Saul calls me up and tells me 'Hey Brucie-baby! I'm sending over a doozy!"

C'mon. You're telling me it took 12 years to come up with a good "Die-Hard" script? It's not like it's a difficult premise. McClane shoots the bad guys and gets beat to hell. There's your movie. I think it's a version of a mid-life crisis. I think Willis looked around and saw all the new hot stars with their fancy martial-arts moves and their high-flying stunts and thought, "Hey, I can do that. I started that! I'm not old!" So he went out and bought a Ferrari and a trophy wife, but that didn't help, so he called up his agent and said, "Saul? Bruce. Get the guys together. Yeah, that's right. 'Die-Hard' time. What? I don't know, maybe 'Die-Hardest.'

Though I recognize the inherent silliness in dragging this old warhorse out of the barn for another round, I have to say that I'm a big "Die-Hard" fan. And, though I think the "waiting-for-the-perfect-script" excuse is bogus, they did come up with a pretty good one.

Vicious techno-terrorists, their leader bent on revenge against the U.S. government, have enacted a "Fire Sale" wherein, using a team of unsuspecting hacker accomplices, a systematic attack on the nation's infrastructure disables the transportation system, followed by the financial industry, and finally the essential services — light, heat and water.

John McClane, a NYPD senior detective who happens to be on duty at the wrong time, gets a call to pick up one of said accomplices, Matt Farrell, and bring him in for questioning about some strange anomalies that are showing up on the FBI's cyber-security system.

Unfortunately, the bad guys are also looking for Mr. Farrell, hoping to erase him and cover their tracks. Naturally they run across McClane instead and all hell breaks loose. Now it's up to our hero, "an analog cop in a digital world," to, with the help of his new techno-geek buddy, shoot enough bad guys to save the day. The twist? McClane's daughter Lucy is all grown up and attending college at Rutgers University. I wonder if she'll end up in harm's way? Hmmm ... .

As "Die-Hard" movies go, "Live Free" is top notch. The first film in the series is a legitimately good movie, so it doesn't really compare to the others, but this fourth entry is at least as good as the second and much better than the third.

Willis, despite being in his 50s, gives it his all. And the writers, after having strayed some with the last movie, are back to form.

Gone is the frantic forced pace and awkward buddy-humor of "Die-Hard: With a Vengeance" (terrible title).

Justin Long, the "Mac" kid from the commercials, plays a perfect modern counterpoint to McClane's old-school tactics. He's funny, without ever being jokey, and his rapid fire techno-dialogue, though probably made-up, feels like it could be real.

This is probably the only point in his career where he'll be described as a vast improvement on Samuel L. Jackson, so he should savor the moment.

There certainly are problems. This is a big-budget action movie and if the filmmakers want to launch a police-car at a helicopter, then they're darn-well going to do it, no matter what 1,000 years of physicists have to say about it. But, preposterous as some of the stunts are, they look good, and that's what matters.

A real problem for me, however, and I know I sound like a broken record, is the rating. Why PG-13? This movie has just as much violence and nearly as much language as every other "Die-Hard" movie, and yet where the others were "R," "Live Free" earns the kid-friendly thumbs up from the MPAA. The only thing it has less of is blood. So what? It's still got one of the highest body counts of the summer so far.

Sigh. If Bruce Willis can wait until he's 52 to make another "Die-Hard" movie, I think the audience can wait until they're 17. Grade: B+

"Live Free or Die Hard" is rated PG-13 for excessive and constant violence and language.

Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.



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