By Kyle | June 29, 2007
Running time: 130 minutes
Rated PG-13 (action violence, profanity, brief sexual situation)
Opens nationwide June 27
WhatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢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 ofÃ‚Â excitingly dull execution asÃ‚Â “M:I:III.” ItsÃ‚Â effort to be on the edge of things Ã¢â‚¬â€ there are these things called computers, you see, and they control of a lot of stuff in your ordinary lifeÃ¢â‚¬â€doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t freshen up its 20-year-old moves or its dismal writing. “My name is Daisy Duke,” says one jokesterÃ‚Â 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 thatÃ‚Â it’s up to date by condensing itself into a five-minute Webisode. The character development and story details are expendable, as areÃ‚Â 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 commercialsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ 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 Ã¢â‚¬â€ all the stoplights in D.C. turn green at the same moment, which turns every intersection into a scrap heap Ã¢â‚¬â€ 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,Ã‚Â have rigged up the computers of expendable hackers:Ã‚Â The next time someone hits delete, heÃ‚Â gets deleted, along with his computer, his desk, his house and half his neighborhood.Ã‚Â How exactly this hack works is left unclear. I wasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t aware that the average Mac contained a secret cache of TNT waiting to be detonated by just the right code sequence, butÃ‚Â IÃ‚Â always did suspectÃ‚Â “fatal error” meant something worse than “turn your computer off.”
ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a strong start Ã¢â‚¬â€ who doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t fear that the next time you look at your 401(k) online, it willÃ‚Â be zeroed out? Ã¢â‚¬â€ but what do you do with it visually? Not much, answers director Len Wiseman (“Underworld”). Hackers type stuff on keyboards, wait forÃ‚Â 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 superfluousÃ‚Â chatter (“This is virtual terrorism!”), repeat.
For no particular reason, two of the villains are French. The subplot I expected Ã¢â‚¬â€ slow-moving BÃƒÂ©arnaise sauce-based terrorism that attacks the vital national infrastructure of peopleÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s arteries Ã¢â‚¬â€ never happens. Foreigners: scary! is about as far as the thinking went when these characters wereÃ‚Â 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 rustyÃ‚Â Jeff Goldblum technogeek factory, whines so much (“Do you have anything to eat? Any snacks around? I have really low blood sugar”) that youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll actually be hoping he gets deleted with extreme prejudice.Ã‚Â 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 supervillainyÃ‚Â (see Tia Carrere in “True Lies”) is as clichÃƒÂ© as everything else.
The only smart exchangeÃ‚Â comes when McClane expresses incredulity that the government doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢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 thereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s “You probably shouldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t antagonize them because they have all the loaded guns and whatnot” and “WhatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s the matter Ã¢â‚¬â€ cat got your tongue?” and “ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢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 didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t send Girl Scouts out to get this guy.” “Just doinÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ my job, thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s all.” “LetÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s step outside, just you and me, weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll see who hurts who.” This last one comes from McClaneÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s lissome kidnapped daughter (another steal from “True Lies”), who, as played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead,Ã‚Â looks like she could well bust hearts. Skulls, not so much.
McClane, say the villains, is but “a Timex watch in a digital age” Ã¢â‚¬â€ but Ã¢â‚¬â€ hang on–doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t Timex make digital watches? Come to think of it, arenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t digital watchesÃ‚Â a joke fromÃ‚Â the Carter administration? Did anyone read this script before they started filming it?
The explosions are wittier than the talk, but IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢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.”