Sunday, July 8, 2007

Reel To Reel: Live Free Or Die Hard

Cyber-crime is no match for a few well-placed explosions.

How It Rates: ***
Starring: Bruce Willis
Rated: PG-13
Red Flags: Blow-Up and Beat-Up Violence, Some Language, Mild Sexiness

"Over the top" is such a worn-out term to discuss action-film sequences. The definition mutates from blockbuster to blockbuster like a game filmmakers once played at recess. Now we have films that routinely and obediently bend physics, logic and human tolerance for pain. But golly, isn't it fun to watch.

It doesn't matter that the latest Die Hard installment unspools onto screens at least a decade after its predecessor. Detective John McClane (Willis) is a little brittle around the edges, but he can still kick your butt and make you enjoy it.

Live Free Or Die Hard also features a lot of people typing on keyboards, a lot of computer screens crammed with information, and searches that would make Google jealous as an ex-spook and some nerdy hench-hackers shut down the computer networks controlling the nation's traffic, security, planes, power and money. Strangely enough, somebody forgot to tell these guys about the Internet. The motivation for this sinister attack remains unfathomable for most of the picture, so the "somebody has to" excuse fits. Maybe Dr. Evil is bankrolling these guys. Cars crash, stocks crash, and the lights shut off across America. Told ya Windows was buggy.

McClane is assigned to protect hacker Matt Farrell (Justin Long) who contributed to the mess by writing a snippet of code that's designed to do something obtusely diabolical, even to geeks, just to prove that it can be done. Most other people would climb Pike's Peak. The baddies are out to kill him, just as they have all the other hackers who have contributed to the scheme, which nobody with a badge knows how to undo.

While Farrell has his geek freak-outs and compulsory elements of frantic keyboard tapping, McClane is using his low-tech tough-guy skills to creatively kill people or save his own life. An early scene involves clever work with a fire extinguisher. Fair enough. But it progresses from there to saving moves involving a fire hydrant, then a police cruiser, then a semi -- all versus some type of aircraft. By that time it's obvious even gravity can't stop Bruce Willis' character from either blowing something up or shooting something down and then walking away with a few cuts and muffled wisecracks. McClane devours pain. Pain is his friend. He takes the kinds of chances we saw in the Lethal Weapon pictures, the brainlessly crazy stunts audiences eat up.

Live Free Or Die Hard succeeds as pure rollercoaster entertainment because it's macho and stupid and incendiary in all the right places. It satisfies our need for overloaded sensory activity in THX. Those kinds of films make money, Die Hard or not.

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