Late in the summer of 2007, a fourth sequel to the 1988 classic Die Hard was released. Earlier in the year I was excited to see the franchise make a comeback; after all, 80’s action movies are a real guilty pleasure of mine. However, I began to be worried when I heard Len Wiseman was chosen to direct. This filmmaker who brought us such in-essential cinema as Underworld Evolution was hardly my idea of a perfect director for a Die Hard film. Then it was revealed that Justin Long (of “I’m a Mac” fame) was chosen to co-star I really became nervous, and the insane title of Live Free or Die Hard didn’t ease my tensions.
The straw that broke the camel’s back however was the revelation that the film would receive a PG-13 rating and that John McClane’s famous line would be obscured. This was all the proof I needed to know that this film would be a massive sell-out, I firmly decided to boycott the film during its theatrical release and wrote an angry commentary on my blog about it. What was really infuriating was the generally accepting pass it received from a number of filmgoers who seemed way to forgiving of this film’s obvious sellout. Finally, after someong online said the unrated cut was “fucktacular” I decided to rent that version on DVD. To my shock, I found that I was not only right about each and every one of my concerns, but that they were only the beginning of this movie’s problems.
It’s been twelve years since the last Die Hard film, 1995’s imperfect but fun Die Hard with a Vengeance, and John McClane (Bruce Willis) seems to finally be having a fairly normal police career. That is until he receives a call from his chief telling him to escort a computer hacker (Justin Long) to Washington D.C. Upon arriving at this hackers apartment he is greeted with an all out attack by a group of assassins. McClane soon learns that this hacker is a target because he recently wrote a code that is about to be used to create all out havoc across the eastern seaboard because an evil hacker (Timothy Olyphant) wants revenge against the government.
With McClane having to escort an unwilling sidekick, a large rather than enclosed stomping ground, and a villain trying to act like a terrorist only to distract authorities from a heist; it is clear that this entry was modeled after Die Hard With a Vengeance rather than the original or its sequel Die Hard 2: Die Harder. While the third film in the series was able to generate a compelling entry by subverting the formula; that trick only works once. The second time this trick feels less like subversion and more like abandonment.
None of what made Die Hard a classic is present here at all. None of John McClane’s attitude is present here, he never even feels overly surprised or angry about his predicament. Rather Bruce Willis is completely phoning it in here and mostly looks bored throughout. Additionally, even on the “unrated cut” this movie feels really tame. The violence is still almost bloodless and even when a villain falls into a meat-grinder there is very little gory goodness. When compared to even the relatively tame third installment (which had a throat slitting villainess, a man split in half by a wire, and a really violent gunfight in an elevator), this film simply doesn’t deliver on the intense action fans have come to expect. Also the swearing is still very restrained, yes there are a handful of f-bombs now but none of them are very well delivered, in fact they feel a little bit like outtakes.
This film has bland and uninteresting dialogue, poor editing, and an extremely forgettable villain. But the real black hole at the center of this film is Justin Long. This is an even bigger problem than I thought he would be. I knew long would be annoying, but I had hoped he would also be fun to hate, unfortunately he’s bland and just plain annoying. Additionally Long has absolutely no chemistry with Bruce Willis.
This is a ridiculous film with cartoonish action scenes. There is a particular moment involving a Harrier Jet that was so ridiculous that all I could do was roll my eyes. The film has no idea how computers work and frequently has people hacking simply by typing on a keyboard without so much as touching a mouse. Also laughable was a scene where the film’s hacker villain talks to his henchmen in English while they communicate back in a foreign language subtitled and both parties seem to understand the other. I’d be able to suspend my disbelief if the henchmen had been wookies, but not for Europeans.
Live Free or Die Hard is an embarrassment to a once great series of action movies. Even in its “unrated cut” this is a lame and boring film. Those who made it should be ashamed by the way they blatantly sold out for this production.
* out of four