Live Free or Die Hard (2007)

“Yippee-kai-yey, motherf…” That was the big promo that popped up on the side of buses, above highway ramps, along the roads. Yes, that familiar, comforting, even melancholy phrase from the blockbuster 1988 film was used to promote the 4th movie in the series. It was a cool promo, an interesting way to appeal to seasoned fans of Jonh McClane, as well as new audience. As soon as I first saw that poster, I had to go see John kick some ass. Little did I know at the time that the famous phrase really does get cut off, much like in the poster. You see, in order to get more people into seats the movie was cut – after being filmed – to get a PG 13 rating. Along with the cuts, as you excepted, went excessive violence, mature language and whatever else that kids are not allowed to see these days. The worst part is that decision was made after the film was done, leaving plenty of good ol’ action footage somewhere on the editing room floor. Bad move. Really bad move.

I really hope that footage shows up on a special edition DVD at some point, because as much as I like that character, and his ‘single cop vs. terrorists de jure’ formula, and as much as this film keeps true to that formula, a lot of John’s charm was missing. It might be the fact that Bruce Willis is just too old to play these roles. Or it may be because he’s appeared in so many stronger, more appealing roles since the last time we ‘saved the world’ with Sam Jackson (Die Hard 3 – came out in 1995), that he seems less a hero and more of a tired old man. Or, maybe what the film really missed was the good ol’ action, with blood, swearing, and bone-crunching. No, not a horror-fest, but a solid, believable action. Why the hell it was decided to cut the language and blood – and leave the plot and characters that are more realistic and more terrible – is beyond me. The movie suffered. It shows.

Despite that one major flaw, I really liked ‘Live Free or Die Hard’. It borrowed heavily from many other hacker-themed action and sci-fi films, and borrowed wisely. Just enough to make it hip, but not too much to lose the viewer or make it too improbable. This is not the latest Bond hacking into security systems with his Sony Ericsson (shameless plugs almost killed that film); this is a young punk organizing a network of hackers to deliver access (or weaknesses) of major US infrastructure elements, and slowly bringing them down. Meanwhile, John McClane is trying to keep one of those hackers alive to prevent or reverse that electronic attack.

Sounds too techy? Don’t sweat it. Most of the characters in the film don’t bother with the computer details, and spend much more time in the action mode – either as victims, damsels in distress, or short-term heroes. John, of course, is the weary, been-there, done-that cop who happens to be bulletproof, according to a few amazing car chases. He’s got a gun, a fast car, and life-saving instincts. He doesn’t need a degree from MIT, street smarts should be enough. That’s what make this character so cool – in spite of all gadgetry, he manages to survive, and out-think the people behind the computers. Sure he gets some help along the way (Kevin Smith cameo is gold), but essentially, this is instinct versus cold, unthinking machines.

John gets a sidekick (of course), as a reluctant hacker who initially helped organize this terror attack, but quickly changes his loyalties after an attempt on his life. He’s played by Justin Long (“hi, I’m a mac”), and the comic timing between the two guys is great. They’re not exactly buddies, but one must protect the other, who must use his skills to reverse a country-wide computer meltdown. They really need each other, and it’s out of that necessity their relationship grows. Nothing more, No buddy-cop gimmicks.

Some of John’s past is mentioned briefly, but more as a gag, and not character exposition. He’s weary, and more cynical, but he’s still the same guy who happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. There are so many scenes in that film that reminded me of that first walk into the elevator back in 1988. You know, he could have just ditched the party, and stayed home. The film has amazing pace – sometimes you can hardly catch your breath. Bonus points to editors who give a few sequences to settle things, refresh the characters and re-set the goals. Soon afterwards – another spectacular chase.

The action looked realistic, and the dirty shirt (there always is) was fantastic. John McClane is back, a little older, a little less filthy, but still kicking ass. Catch it on the big screen, as it was supposed to be seen, or watch for an extended DVD with all the nasty words and a bit more bullet holes. It’s an enjoyable ride.

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