Thursday, December 24, 2009

“You just killed a helicopter with a car!”

Winding down our X-MAS X-PLOSION X-TRAVAGANZA with a Die Hard sequel that is a little out of place. It wasn’t made until 2007, a full twelve years after the last one. I mean, you’d think the franchise was played out, right? Well, this is AMERICA, and every franchise has a right to Live Free or Die Hard according to its own merits. Or according to the merits of its unrated director’s cut.

Something something terrorism but not really. Its 4th of July Weekend in DC and some disgruntled computer program leader guy decides to hold the entire country hostage by taking over all of the internets. Or something like that. Its…pretty shaky, but its an excuse to start killing off hackers that helped him achieve this. One manages to survive because of John McClane, and here we go again with the whole explosions and car chases and banter and the like.

John McClane: Bruce Willis once more as the New York detective who’s in the wrong place at the right time. His life still sucks. Now he’s divorced from his wife, his grown-up daughter doesn’t want to talk to him, and he feels like a man that the world is leaving behind. Then he gets called up to bring in a hacker for questioning, ends up saving said hacker’s life and gets embroiled in the efforts to stop a disgruntled former government computer systems designer from extorting many dollars cash. John proceeds to survive even more insanely lethal things, like launching a car at a helicopter and later indirectly managing to destroy an F-35 VTOL fighter jet with a truck (its…complicated).

Matt Farrell: Justin Long plays a pretentious, smug but easily pushed around hacker who gets in way over his head. He was duped into helping the bad guys out and just barely survived their attempt to cover their tracks thanks to John McClane. Matt’s important to the plot and he’s not unbearably annoying, but he’s no Samuel L. Jackson.

Freddie “Warlock” Kaludis: Kevin Smith plays genius hacker who lives in his mom’s basement surrounded by Star Wars memorabilia. Anyway, John & Matt go to him for some help/information.

Lucy Gennaro McClane: Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays John McClane’s all grown up and really beautiful daughter. She gets unwillingly dragged into things, but proves to have some of the McClane feistiness.

Mai Lihn: Maggie Q plays the Bad Guy’s lieutenant and hot girlfriend. She’s fairly interesting since she knows what she’s doing and also knows how to mix it up in a melee.

Thomas Gabriel: Timothy Olyphant plays our Villain, not the giant beasties from Lord of the Rings. He glowers and he schemes and does all sorts of bad guy things, but he just doesn’t have the same it that Alan Rickman and Jeremy Irons had in 1 and 3.

Rand: Cyril Raffaelli, an actual Parkour traceur (look it up) and stunt guy is this film’s badass. He’s one of Gabriel’s goons, true, but more than that, he’s an awesome goon. Doesn’t talk much, behaves in a very professional mercenary way and survives several encounters with John McClane. Let me repeat: He. Survives. Several. Encounters. With. John. McClane.

Directed by Len Wiseman (who was one of the creators of the Underworld movies and happens to be married to Kate Beckinsale) definitely brings a lot of big, expensive action set pieces to this film, which at this point, is all that’s really needed. Pacing is fine if a little draggy in the middle. Special effects don’t get in the way of things either.

Probably my favorite part is not an action scene at all but the public announcement that the bad guys broadcast. Instead of some guy in a mask or blurred face & voice, you get a spliced together speech from various U.S. presidents. It is both fairly creepy and very cool.

Story by Mark Bomback and David Marconi with additional credit given to an article by John Carlin called “A Farewell to Arms” and “certain original characters” credit to Roderick Thorp. I’ll be blunt and say that this is not an intelligent movie. How most of the computer stuff occurs would probably shatter the brain of an actual computer science person. Still, on the character development front, the script succeeds in bringing some new stuff to the world of John McClane so at least the plot and characters feel somewhat fresh, even if it seems like the best Die Hard movies are the odd numbered ones.

Sadly, Michael Kamen died in 2003, so he couldn’t score the music for this movie. That task went to Marco Beltrami, though a bunch of Kamen’s themes from the previous movies were integrated, which is a nice touch. No Christmas music in this one, but “Fortunate Son” by Credence Clearwater Revival gets some major play throughout the movie. As someone who enjoys CCR quite a bit, I approve of this.

Look, its not a game changer or anything particularly innovative, BUT Live Free Or Die Hard is surprisingly fun for a sequel made a decade after the previous one. So its quite a relief that the franchise that can be called Live Free Or Die Harder With A Vengeance comprises four solid action movies. Which leads to a very Merry Christmas indeed.

Now, for your Holiday Pleasure, a recap of all four movies in musical form. Profanity and spoilers abound

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