NOTE: The theatrical version of LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD was rated PG-13. This is a review of the unrated DVD version.
Let's get the negatives out of the way:
* LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD is about a super computer hacker systematically shutting down The United States, causing havoc and panic across the country. The trouble is, computers don't lend themselves to exciting movie moments. People sitting around looking at monitors, typing on keyboards, saying things like "Let's get that upload"... seriously, it's not easy to make this kind of geeky stuff cinematically interesting.
* The original DIE HARD had Alan Rickman as the bad guy, and DIE HARD WITH A VENGEANCE had Jeremy Irons. LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD has Timothy Olyphant. Olyphant is a good actor and does project a certain sinister quality, but this is a part that calls for a big star, or at least a screen presence strong enough to match Bruce Willis. When Willis battles with Olyphant and his merry band of hackers, if sometimes feels like a substitute teacher dealing with a semi-rowdy band of students.
* While most of LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD features good old-fashioned stunt work, the film still relies on CGI for some of its thrills, including a huge setpiece toward the end. Allow me to quote from JL's review of DIE ANOTHER DAY: "[I]f a computer, rather than a human being, is required for a stunt, it doesn't belong in a Bond film." Since DIE HARD films owe much to the Bond series, the same holds true here. In an action film, I want to see real action, not animation created on a computer. While some of the CGI work is excellent, there are one or two times that you just know you are watching animated characters and vehicles performing animated stunts.
Now for the positives, which far outweigh the negatives:
* Bruce Willis. Without him, this would be just another high-tech thriller. At 52 years old, he hasn't lost a step in the process of successfully resurrecting the great action hero of the '80s and '90s, John McClane of the NYPD. Although Willis may occasionally say things like "I'm getting too old to jump out of cars", this is belied by what we see on screen. He is still a force to be reckoned with, and now, with his trademark baldness, he is even more of an iconic figure. Without apology, I say he still has more pure charisma than Arnold and Sly squared (and I like Arnold and Sly). Welcome back, John McClane! Yippee-Ki-Yay!
* The rest of the cast, especially Justin Long, aka the Mac guy from a series of annoying American television commercials. Long, who plays a computer hacker who is being targeted for death, is an offbeat, appealing actor who works well with Willis, mostly because he is the polar opposite of an action hero. Maggie Q, from MISSION IMPOSSIBLE 3, is the best of the film's villains, a dangerous beauty with insane martial arts skills. Her inevitable comeuppance (by now, you know all the bad guys and gals die, and die hard, in the DIE HARD films) ranks as one of the most exciting, preposterous and satisfying exits of the series. Mary Elizabeth Winstead doesn't get much face time until the final third of the movie, but she does a nice job playing McClane's now grown daughter Lucy, who shares some of her father's personality and has obviously picked up a few self-defense tricks from Pops.
Len Wiseman had only two UNDERWORLD movies under his belt before LIVE FREE AND DIE HARD, but he does a superlative job at keeping the action flowing while still allowing time for the banter and lighter moments the series is known for. He creates a movie that feels like a modern-day action film while still retaining enough of the qualities of the original DIE HARD series to satisfy all the but the most "die hard" fans.
While not the classic film the original is, LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD is roughly equal in quality, thrills and fun to DIE HARD WITH A VENGEANCE. Even if it is nothing more than a summer popcorn flick, it is a summer popcorn flick with Bruce Willis in his most famous role. If they can make a DIE HARD film this good after a twelve-year hiatus, I wouldn't mind hearing of a DIE HARD 5 in the works. - JBAction/Adventure The Stuff You Gotta Watch Home Page
ADD ANOTHER QUOTE AND MAKE IT A GALLON
I thought I killed you already."
"I get that sometimes."
JOHN MCCLANE'S DRIVING TIPS
"The car's on fire. That can't be good."