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Kyle Smith (Twitter: @rkylesmith) is critic-at-large for National Review, theater critic for The New Criterion and the author of the novels Love Monkey and A Christmas Caroline. Type a title in the box above to locate a review.

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    Review: “Live Free or Die Hard”

    By Kyle | June 29, 2007


    LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD review by Kyle Smith

    Running time: 130 minutes
    Rated PG-13 (action violence, profanity, brief sexual situation)
    Opens nationwide June 27

    What’s the fourth “Die Hard” called? I keep forgetting. “Die Hard: With a Pension”? “Die Hardened Arteries”? “Die Laughing”?

    “Live Free or Die Hard” is a straight-ahead action flick with the same kind of excitingly dull execution as “M:I:III.” Its effort to be on the edge of things — there are these things called computers, you see, and they control of a lot of stuff in your ordinary life—doesn’t freshen up its 20-year-old moves or its dismal writing. “My name is Daisy Duke,” says one jokester who was an embryo when “The Dukes of Hazzard” was a hit, and every pistol must wind up on the floor getting kicked just…out…of…reach.

    Despite a frighteningly plausible premise and a fairly rousing collection of stunts, the movie could best signal that it’s up to date by condensing itself into a five-minute Webisode. The character development and story details are expendable, as are the one-liners, which were purchased in bulk from the damaged-in-handling bin at the Costco Quiporium.

    A team of hackers (led by the TV commercials’ Mac Guy, Justin Long), working just for fun, unwittingly contribute to a plot by a criminal mastermind (Timothy Olyphant, giving a performance only his mother will remember) to disrupt all the computer-controlled stuff in the country at the same time.

    That means everything from traffic snarls — all the stoplights in D.C. turn green at the same moment, which turns every intersection into a scrap heap — to poor cellphone reception (I had that problem already, thanks) and hacked TV broadcasts in which the terrorists take over the airwaves.

    The terrorists, whose motive is hidden, have rigged up the computers of expendable hackers: The next time someone hits delete, he gets deleted, along with his computer, his desk, his house and half his neighborhood. How exactly this hack works is left unclear. I wasn’t aware that the average Mac contained a secret cache of TNT waiting to be detonated by just the right code sequence, but I always did suspect “fatal error” meant something worse than “turn your computer off.”

    It’s a strong start — who doesn’t fear that the next time you look at your 401(k) online, it will be zeroed out? — but what do you do with it visually? Not much, answers director Len Wiseman (“Underworld”). Hackers type stuff on keyboards, wait for download bars to fill up, and say things like “Begin stage two” while John McClane (Bruce Willis) drives around dodging bullets and helicopters. Tappity-tap-tap, then chase-crash-boom, all accompanied by superfluous chatter (“This is virtual terrorism!”), repeat.

    For no particular reason, two of the villains are French. The subplot I expected — slow-moving Béarnaise sauce-based terrorism that attacks the vital national infrastructure of people’s arteries — never happens. Foreigners: scary! is about as far as the thinking went when these characters were dreamed up. The Frenchies keep dashing around showing us their balletic/gymnastic parkour routine, which fits into the doomsday-machine plot about as well as a break for Ice Dancing in the middle of “Road Warrior.”

    Long, whose character was assembled at the rusty Jeff Goldblum technogeek factory, whines so much (“Do you have anything to eat? Any snacks around? I have really low blood sugar”) that you’ll actually be hoping he gets deleted with extreme prejudice. Kevin Smith adds nothing but arm-flailing as a special guest hacker named “Warlord” who lives with his mother and Maggie Q, as a vaguely Asian babe whose turn-ons include hacking, kick-boxing and supervillainy (see Tia Carrere in “True Lies”) is as cliché as everything else.

    The only smart exchange comes when McClane expresses incredulity that the government doesn’t have scads of impregnable defenses against hackers. Long replies, “It took FEMA five days to get water to the Super Dome.”

    Otherwise the one-liners are as enjoyable as spinal injury. “Is the circus in town?” McClane calls when one of the Frenchmen clings to his windshield. Then there’s “You probably shouldn’t antagonize them because they have all the loaded guns and whatnot” and “What’s the matter — cat got your tongue?” and “It’s a little thing they invented in the 60s called jogging.”

    The pumped-up mantalk is even worse: “Somebody out there thinks they can screw with us. I want to find out who.” “Listen, they didn’t send Girl Scouts out to get this guy.” “Just doin’ my job, that’s all.” “Let’s step outside, just you and me, we’ll see who hurts who.” This last one comes from McClane’s lissome kidnapped daughter (another steal from “True Lies”), who, as played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead, looks like she could well bust hearts. Skulls, not so much.

    McClane, say the villains, is but “a Timex watch in a digital age” — but — hang on–doesn’t Timex make digital watches? Come to think of it, aren’t digital watches a joke from the Carter administration? Did anyone read this script before they started filming it?

    The explosions are wittier than the talk, but I’m just wondering: could a fighter jet built to destroy near-supersonic aircraft really be outfoxed by an 18-wheeler moving at 40 mph? If you rammed a car into a concrete column, would it really drive itself up the column, take wing and bring down the nearest helicopter? If there were nationwide gridlock, would every road McClane wants to drive on suddenly clear out for him? Maybe they should have called it “Die Hardly.”

    Topics: Movies | 7 Comments »

    7 Responses to “Review: “Live Free or Die Hard””

    1. Pat Twist Says:
      June 28th, 2007 at 10:33 am

      You have got to be one of the worst critics I’ve ever had the displeasure of reading. I can’t even consider what I just read a ‘review’ because it’s so cluttered with your snarky quasi-intellectual B.S.

      Aside from the fact that you’re entirely off base with your take on LFoDH (in a summer glutted with disappointments the fourth Die Hard is a breath of fresh, albeit over-the-top, air), I find your pretentious attitude a complete distraction.

      Anyone who payed attention in media studies back in college knows that a decent film review allows the reader to judge for himself whether or not he would enjoy the movie regardless of what the critic’s feelings on the actual film are. The decent critics are able to combine the two, providing both insight and their personal opinion. You, sir, are not capable of this.

      P.S. The phrase “not so much” wasn’t that cool 5 years ago when my 13 year old niece and all her girlfriends were using it. It’s even less cool when a white 30+ year old man uses it.

      Also, if you would be so kind as to forward me the contact information at the Post for writing submissions I’d really appreciate it. Between you and Linda Stasi, they could really use some new blood.

    2. JP Alexander Says:
      August 1st, 2007 at 8:11 am

      Well yea you are right about most of your observations. But the reason this movie is satisfing is because they know it’s stupid. A movie like The fast and the furious thinks it’s serious and that makes it bad. This film knows it’s stupid and plays on that. And that’s what makes it good.

      And about the phrase not so cool, it’s cool to use any phrase you wish. I would be a little offended about the last guys telling you that it’s less cool when a white over 30 uses it. So is he saying that a black guy 25 can use it and it’s all of a sudden it’s cool again? Some people are real assholes.

    3. ghaniy Says:
      August 16th, 2007 at 12:14 pm

      yeah so what if die hard is a little exaggerated, it’s still a kick ass movie to me, no matter what anyone says, i still it’s the best diehard ever

    4. Ravikant Says:
      August 18th, 2007 at 1:20 am

      Imo, You suck man, you acid tongue critic, i dont think you ever like any movie (or i should say action movie huh)…Die hard rocks. Whats ‘Die hard’ without those “exaggerated stunts”…If you were to direct the movie, you would kill just in the beginning…and the movie would last for about 10 minutes ROFLMAO.

    5. Steven Says:
      September 8th, 2007 at 11:12 am

      The film is called “Live Free or Die Hard”, of course its over the top, its meant to be, you are paying to see explosions stunts, would you rather the film did feature these things and consisted of a cop doing paperwork all day?
      I’m not saying you have to like a film, but judge an action film as an action film, its not meant to compete with The godfather or The Third Man and the audience knows that.
      Die Hard is a great action film, its been far too long since there’s been an action film which didn’t rely on slow-motion or liberal use of “gun-fu”. its brutal, its violent, its mean and its dirty, it a die hard film.

    6. Nick Simons (Barcelona) Says:
      September 10th, 2007 at 6:06 pm

      Just like to say that I have just come back from the cinema and me, 46, and my son, 13, laughed a lot and I personally was happy to see the good guys win again. As someone has said above, the film is a tongue-in-cheek action movie and should be reviewed as such.

      People were writing the same review about the Terminator series and the first Die Hards years ago.

      Anyone out there? Just go see the film. A great time will be had by all except people looking up their “famous English soccer team”.

    7. Satish Naidu Says:
      December 12th, 2007 at 4:24 pm

      Who is that bald dude running around in that poor excuse for an action movie with the name of one of my favorite characters? This isn’t the John McLane I fell in love with, not even to the remotest possible degree. This dude isn’t funny and this dude can’t even say “Yippeekiyay”. All this guy seems to be is a leftover from all those superhero movies this summer, with a couple of angels riding on his shoulders.
      John McLane was never the one man action force. He was so special because he was the quiet essential underdog, an arrogantly funny man who despite all his vulnerabilities and all odds saved the day. He was who we identified with. He was never a John J Rambo. But I guess Len Wiseman missed the bus on this one. I guess he saw the DVDs of the Die Hard movies with Rambo ones. How else could one explain this ugly metamorphosis of John McLane?
      Forget about the Die Hard series, this movie isn’t worth even the price of the admission ticket. Whatever action there is could be caught right there in the official trailer. This is not your father’s action movie, this is a super dumb, super awful action movie with all the vices of the 70s action movie with absolutely no improvement whatsoever in any department. There is a line in the original when the Feds plan to defeat Hans Gruber. Sgt. Al Powell tells us John-“The feds have the anti terrorist manual and they’re following it step by step.” Well that is exactly what the men behind this fourth installment have only that the title on the manual is “How to cash in on the name of a brilliant action movie and steal money out of audiences’ pockets?” To be honest, the Die Hard series was dead and buried with the awful third outing that just didn’t end with that awful puzzles and all. Still, it was fun. But this here is enjoyable for only one class of audiences-the mentally retarded. As for its PG-13 rating, well I advise, nah, I implore you please don’t take your kids. These vile capitalists are out for your hard earned money. I could clearly see Bruce Willis mouth the golden “f” word but what I heard was jackass. Believe me, even your kid will notice that.
      Plot, let me think. Some wise man once said-“It is better to keep your mouth shut and let people wonder than to open your mouth and dispel all doubts.” This movie obviously is under the impression that using something like cyber is the in-thing. Well it sure is but please do it intelligently. It is so embarrassing to see brain-dead hacking applications with a big, glaring “VIRUS UPLOADING: YES: NO”. The bad guy is the designer and the bad guy hacks because he wants money and blah, blah, blah. He jams everything and the United States in under a cyber attack. Chaos reigns. How is wish that chaos reigned on the sets and we wouldn’t have been here to witness this blatant rape of one of my cherished series.
      For a sidekick, John McLane has a real, fully functional virus/pest in Mike Ferrell (Justin Long). Are these people morons? I mean, when the pairing with Samuel L Jackson didn’t work, how in the wide world was this one going to even find its bearings? I have no idea what heavenly purpose he served that couldn’t be worked around by the super dumb script. And why didn’t god be with the bad guys for once, just once and kill him right in the beginning? That would have saved me from a lot of brain damage. Then there’s Cliff Curtis as the FBI man who is in charge of preventing this kind of cyber attack. All the screenplay asks him to do is walk tight around his office. In a way, he has the toughest job because he has to mouth the lion share of the dialogues from the manual I mentioned above. And the villain, Thomas Gabriel (Timothy Olyphant). One word, god awful. There’s one lady sidekick of his too, whose job is too look sexy and kick ass. Oh good lord, how uncreative these guys are. They were making a Die Hard sequel and all they could come up for a sidekick is a leather-clad karate proficient hottie. And the biggest joke is that Mai (Maggie Q) doesn’t exactly fit the bill of a hottie. Not even once did my eyes roll. Lucy McLane, John McLane’s chick, er, daughter is way, way hotter. And she is the only one who isn’t a pain on your senses. And what was that thing about Warlock (Kevin Smith)?
      As for Bruce Willis, he is strictly okay. Not bad but okay. Nothing special at all. He seemed to be tired as well.
      The most important point is the action. As I said, watch the trailer and you have the best part. Rest of it is pretty generic with zero thrills. It is all the more assaulting to the senses when these boring action sequences are spiced up with some humor, some very, very forced humor. Best is one helicopter sequence which takes forever to end as our “heroic” pair has a dose of humor for us. I have seen Mr. Bean shows funnier than this and I thought that was for mentally retarded.
      To be honest, Die Hard movies haven’t ever been stupid. DIE HARD WITH A VENGEANCE was long, silly but never so incredibly dumb. This one not only asks you to suspend your disbelief with a titanium string, it even tries to cut that string. I had a tough time with my brain; times that I thought only existed in Jerry Bruckheimer/Michael Bay movies. John McLane does everything from hitting a chopper with a car to playing duck to an F-35. And he always comes out on top, needless to say that.
      Len Wiseman, what can I say about his masterwork here? He seems to have walked straight out of the sets of those awful UNDERWORLD movies. What was the need for all that color de-saturation is out of my comprehension. It looked good in that make-belief world of Underworld movies but here it pinches in the eye. Half of the action looks fake and the other half isn’t clear. How is that for an action movie? As for the parts between, it is a big yawn.
      The best action movies don’t ever rely on the action. The action is just one part. The parts in between is what make them so special. Imagine what DIE HARD would have been without Hans Gruber and his explicitly pronounced accent and the exchanges between him and McLane. It had so many quotable quotes. Here, I can’t remember one, not a single one. What’s more, these guys even managed the tough task of brutalizing McLane’s Yippeekiyay.
      Everything here is inevitable. It takes a miracle to kill somebody; mere worldly bullets won’t do the trick. Not even when a whole power grid explodes does our hero muster a scratch. And there’s a sequence where a whole room explodes but our hero, hidden behind a table or whatever again doesn’t have even a splinter come his way. I really liked what Justin Long’s character says when the whole power grid explodes but their vehicle and they themselves don’t get affected a wee bit. “What’s the point?” I’m sure he meant it in a different way but it sure explains a lot of stupidity in the movie. The rest is inexplicable by mere mortals like me.