Image courtesy of www.impawards.com
Bruce Willis .John McClane
Mary Elizabeth Winstead .Lucy McClane
Justin Long .Matt Farrell
Kevin Smith .Warlock
Maggie Q .Mai Lihn
Timothy Olyphant .Thomas Gabriel
Cyril Raffaelli .Rand
If the first sequel to Die Hard emulated all of the better qualities of the first, except with a little less panache and flair, then Live Free or Die Hard emulates the better qualities of Die Hard with a Vengeance while repeating the same level of inferiority when compared to the original Die Hard.
After following the adventure of a New York cop battling terrorists in L.A, then following him battling terrorists in an airport and then through the streets of New York itself, this fourth film in the franchise follows the iconic John McClane (Bruce Willis) as he unwittingly gets pulled into saving the day one more time against technological genius Thomas Gabriel (Timothy Olyphant). After doing some grunt work for the FBI by arresting a computer hacker (Justin Long) and escorting him to the capital, Gabriel attacks the country via its technology and shuts everything down. McClane is back to save the day, attempting to defeat the terrorist and his army of henchmen while trying to rescue his daughter Lucy (Mary Elisabeth Winstead) from their clutches.
It’s the usual sort of first rate action from Willis, who’s career was permanently sent to the top with the original Die Hard, and on its own it’s perfectly acceptable as an action film. There are some jaw-dropping action sequences that are set up wonderfully, as well as the usual sort of quips and one-liners requisite in the genre that are entertaining as well. And it is nice to see an action hero from the era back into the type of film that modern action stars like Vin Diesel and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson haven’t been able to successfully emulate. Willis is back in his element as McClane, the “fly in the ointment” that’s endearing to the audience and annoying to the villain. He has his usual set of quips and wisecracks, even if the PG-13 requires him to be a bit more eloquent in his responses than the profane-laced tirades that hardcore fans would prefer from the man, and Willis’ role preparation in the last three years to get back to being the action icon of his prime has paid off. McClane is a world weary hero now, years after taking down Hans Gruber and the terrorists at Nakatomi Towers, and has little to show for it. His daughter doesn’t speak to him, he’s long been divorced, and even a promotion to detective hasn’t left him with anything significant. He isn’t broken, but the world hasn’t left him with much despite his “hero” status. Willis has truly come full circle as an action hero now; his last few film have been an examination of the hero in exile, on the downside of his career and right at the cusp of still being believable as an action hero. If there was a vehicle for him to go out on, and move into less popcorn-style action films, this would ideally be it.
But the problem is that the film’s script isn’t up to par, and neither is its villain. Not only is Olyphant not in the same league as Jeremy Irons or Alan Rickman, the two most prominent of the Die Hard franchise rogues gallery, but he isn’t in the team picture for a film of this sort of status. Gabriel is the sort of villain one would see in a direct to video action film starring Steven Seagal, not an icon like Willis, and Olyphant isn’t evil in the sort of way we need him to be. He does all the perfunctory things to make him unlikable, but he doesn’t do anything to galvanize the audience against him. The script doesn’t allow him to do anything more than what he’s allowed to, which isn’t much. The more unsavory aspects are left to Maggie Q and Cyril Raffaelli, as Gabriel’s two main heavies, and neither of them is allowed enough screen time to develop effectively.
Coupled with Len Wiseman’s directorial vision of trying to fashion the film in the same sort of style that made Underworld a hit, including washed out colors and shaky camera sequences on occasion, and it takes a lot out of the film. It doesn’t get a chance to breathe, to show off a bit, before going into the stellar action sequences. This a good story with a weak script expounding upon it, and when you mix in a miscast Kevin Smith as a computer geek one is left with a pale imitation of a Die Hard movie. Not even Justin Long’s presence can help the film turn the corner, as even his wit and sense of timing don’t mesh as well with the film as they could. Lie Free or Die Hard feels on the same level as Die Hard with a Vengeance, of which it commits most of the same mistakes and doesn’t have the same intensity as the first two films. Without the last two words of the title, this may be an above average action movie. But for a film featuring John McClane, it’s underwhelming.
FINAL RATING (ON A SCALE OF 1-5 BUCKETS):