Live Free or Die Hard | C+

director: Len Wiseman
starring: Bruce Willis, Timothy Olyphant, Justin Long, Maggie Q

Well, I’d like to say they knocked this one out of the park, but I think the first impressions I had when first seeing the trailer for this some months ago were just about right. Live Free or Die Hard is a Die Hard movie in name only. The trailers I saw certainly featured the bloodied cop we all know and love, but they also featured a whiny computer nerd, a relative lightweight actor in the villain’s role, and a whole heap of special effects shots that relied more on spectacle than character.

Now, I’m not saying the Die Hard movies are deep studies in character development, on the contrary–they’re meant to be loud, enjoyable popcorn flicks with an R-rated edge. But it’s always been the wisecracking John McClane as the plot’s driving force, not flying cars and fighter jets. And don’t get me started on the now overuse of “hackers” in movies, who can press five keys and shut down power grids, reroute traffic, and wipe out the country’s finances.

Bruce Willis is good as McClane, but a lot of his lines feel forced and without the wiseguy sensibility that made him so entertaining in the first three flicks. A bit of going through the motions for the paycheck, I think. Timothy Olyphant gives a forgettable performance without much weight as the movie’s villain. His casting doesn’t make much sense in terms of the character description. There were rumors during production that Jeffrey Wright had been cast in the part, someone who would’ve worked much better than the dead-eyed Olyphant. The rest of the supporting cast is alright, but they don’t hold a candle to the familiar cast of characters from the earlier flicks (Reginald VelJohnson, Bonnie Bedelia, William Atherton, etc.).

There’ve been a few franchises that have worked well because the film crews tend to stay intact from sequel to sequel. The Lethal Weapon series strikes me as one of the best examples. Each of the four flicks maintained a certain tone–from the direction to the acting to the lighting to the music/score. Richard Donner’s direction and David Sanborn’s saxophone-heavy score are enough to give you that special “feel” the Weapon movies have, and when you add Mel Gibson and Danny Glover enjoying themselves, you’ve got yourself a consistent, entertaining series of flicks.

For the Die Hard franchise, it was John McTiernan’s direction (with the exception of Die Hard 2, in which Renny Harlin’s direction was certainly was influenced by McTiernan), and Michael Kamen’s boisterous, brass-heavy score. Unfortunately, Len Wiseman is at the helm this time around, and Kamen is dead. While Wiseman is certainly a capable director, McTiernan’s a favorite of mine and Len suffers by comparison. And perhaps the greatest misfire of the film is the wholly unremarkable score. Lots of Marco Beltrami’s low, atmospheric strings instead of Kamen’s loud, brassy fanfares rob the film of the charm the first three movies had in spades. Add to these faults the fact that the movie’s rated PG-13 (the Hollywood cash machine at work, trying to get a wide an audience as possible…$$$) and the one line of dialogue McClane is most famous for is all but spat upon and it’s a very unsatisfying Die Hard movie. It’s a shame.

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