Though sure to disappoint die-hard fans of the series, Len Wiseman´s wildly implausible Live Free or Die Hard nevertheless entertains on a grand scale.
It´s a perfect popcorn movie, filled with nonstop action and relentless suspense, a massively overblown throwback to Speed and other early-90´s action flicks that they haven´t been making in recent years.
And yet, it isn´t really a Die Hard film: the hallmark of the series had been John McClane as an everyman hero, thrown into strained-but-still-somewhat-believable terrorist plots; here he “kills a helicopter with a car” and takes on an F16 with a tractor trailer as an elevated highway collapses around him.
But Bruce Willis deserves a lot of credit, refusing to bow to the ridiculousness of the movie that surrounds him and playing McClane with the same dogged persistence as before. It´s his and Wiseman´s insistence that we should be taking this thing seriously that saves the film from becoming another Last Action Hero.
A crew of cyber-terrorists lead by Thomas Gabriel (Timothy Olyphant) is systematically shutting down vital US electronic networks, starting with the traffic system, moving to the stock market, and then to utilities, in what´s referred to as a “fire sale”.
Enter John McClane, pulled off duty watching over his daughter´s dates and sent to pick up Matt Farrell (Justin Long), a notorious hacker with potential ties to the baddies. And ties he does have: as soon as McClane arrives, bullets rain upon Farrell´s apartment in an attempt by the villains to rid themselves of unnecessary components.
Enter action that rarely lets up for the remainder of the film, as fire sale unfolds, machine gun wielding terrorists descend upon McClane and Farrell, and our hero embarks on an improbable mission across the east coast to stop them himself; he´s not trapped in an isolated area this time, nor forced to go it alone, he just does it unassisted because he can.
Full of plot holes, inconsistencies, and ridiculously overblown action sequences; but it moves at such a quick pace that we don´t have time to criticize until after it´s over. Mindless entertainment, yes, but high-powered and effective nonetheless.
Director Wiseman displays a startling flair for suspense amidst the nonstop action, a trait that was sorely missing from his sleep-inducing Underworld films. Olyphant is smarmy but bland as the main villain, though Maggie Q is excellent as his chief henchwoman; third act fades, however, as their anticlimactic plan is fully revealed.
Long is OK as the hacker tag-along, though occasionally nails-on-chalkboard annoying (see his car hijacking scene), and Mary Elizabeth Winstead is good but underused as McClane´s daughter and third-act hostage.
But Willis is the glue that holds everything together, giving us a credible character against an overblown backdrop; we feel with a surprising resonance every punch he throws, every hit he takes, even when he´s leaping from a falling truck onto the back of an F16 before sliding down crumbling highway.
An otherwise non-Die Hard movie thrives simply because of Willis as McClane.
Major complaint: in a departure from the previous films, violence and language has been toned down to receive a PG-13 rating.