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Movie Review: Live Free or Die Hard

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This two hour and 10 minute film delivers the action and excitement while boosting this action film series and its famous hero who’s at the wrong place at the wrong time. It’s rare to see a film series take a step down in their ratings (the previous three were rated R), but the change doesn’t really affect how this Die Hard installment still delivers the goods amid a national technology attack on July 4th weekend. The film’s entertaining tone is nearly perfect and the stunts are amazingly realistic as special effects blend seamlessly into the non-stop action.

Bruce Willis (like Jack Nicholson) has the rare luxury of being loved by audiences even after several misfires (e.g. Perfect Stranger) because of his wider acting range. Filmmakers capture the same “analog” versus “digital” theme recently seen in Ocean’s 13 as McClane uses mostly weapons hardware (and then some), leaving the computer software work to other characters. Willis plays this reluctant hero well and turns McClane comically maniacal when the constant barrage of attacks begins. "All you have to do is go pick up a kid from Jersey and drive him down to DC, how hard can it be?!" he says.

That kid is Matt Farrell, played by Justin Long (Dodgeball, Galaxy Quest and those funny PC/Mac television commercials) who makes a great impression and bridges the generation gap for audiences and the computer gap for McClane. The sidekick cliché might have hurt the film, but his humor and computer expertise help as he dives into a new world of insane heroism. This high-tech wiz, an important player in this disaster, has an obvious dependence on McClane when things get rough. “Why are you so calm? Have you done that kinda stuff before?” he says to McClane.

Timothy Olyphant (Catch and Release) plays the high tech antagonist Thomas Gabriel with some resourceful gusto, but doesn’t have that menacing presence (not even close to Alan Rickman’s Hans Gruber in the first film). Olyphant keeps a “lightweight” villain status, which matches the film’s tone and opens up some 'insult the bad guy' comedy for McClane and even Matt. The plot provides some interesting political and security issues as Gabriel attacks the U.S. government’s infrastructure; the fast-paced screenplay was written by Mark Bomback and David Marconi (Enemy of the State).

Filmmakers fill the remaining supporting cast with familiar faces, rising stars, and action genre veterans. Maggie Q (Mission Impossible 3) gets to show off her considerable martial arts prowess as Mai Lihn. Cyril Raffaelli also showcases his incredible acrobatic fighting skills as one of Gabriel’s henchman. His amazing fighting skills continue an appealing trend in the action genre – also showcased by Sebastien Foucan in Casino Royale and Tony Jaa in The Protector and Ong-Bak. Cliff Curtis (Three Kings, Collateral Damage) plays Bowman, McClane’s main government contact along with his assistant Raj, played by Sung Kang (Better Luck Tomorrow, Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift). Kevin Smith (a.k.a. Silent Bob) makes an appearance as another high-tech wiz named Warlock while Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays McClane’s daughter.

Music composer Marco Beltrami (I, Robot) enhances the fast-paced action while even borrowing a few recognizable string pieces from Michael Kamen’s score from the first film. Director Len Wiseman (Underworld) makes every shot look real as he ducks and weaves among the outstanding action sequences. None of the sequences feel staged and filmmakers pepper the plot with a few references to the original (and still best) Die Hard film.

Any possible filmmaking miscues (e.g. drivers race through a tunnel even though it says 15 mph on the gate sign) can always be explained away with a convenient “the nation is in crisis” excuse. Luckily, audiences won’t have any bumps in the road and can enjoy a smooth ride full of admirable heroes and highly reactive situations. Highly recommended and rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, language, and a brief sexual situation near the beginning of the film. Story concept was based on an article by John Carlin titled “A Farewell to Arms”.

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