Live Free or Die Hard

Or, Die Hard times 4, which is what I hear some are calling it. It's been a while since I saw any of the first three, but it's entirely possible that more stuff was destroyed in this one than in all those three put together. I understand that audiences get jaded, and you need to add more thrills, but wow.

Still, it actually isn't just a blow-things-up movie; there is a plot, and a decent one, though it will feed any paranoiac's wildest fantasies. It's based on an article called "A Farewell to Arms", by John Carlin, a speculative piece written for Wired magazine a decade ago. You'd never know it was based on something that old, really. The technology may grow, by leaps and bounds, but the big problem that goes with it is, in the end, the same old problem: anything anyone can make, someone else can break.

And today, most of the making and breaking involves computers. Matt Farrell is a white-hat hacker (I'm not sure that's the current term any more, but you know what I mean) who gets pulled unwittingly into the biggest computer game of all time. He's played by Justin Long, whose first big movie role was as Brandon, the computer-geek hero kid in Galaxy Quest (I just love that movie), so I guess things haven't changed much for him. Except he's a little older and cuter -- I think it's the sarcasm, which I always find attractive.

Anyway, his security algorithm is being used by Timothy Olyphant, as the big bad villain, though he seems to consider himself just another working guy who happens to have the plan -- and the capability -- to shut down the entire U.S. infrastructure. After getting bits of code from a group of hackers, he starts killing them all so as not to leave any loose ends -- always a good plan for the evil genius -- but when they go after Matt, the Bruce himself is there, and he's been told to bring Matt in alive. Guess who wins that argument?

Matt is brought before FBI Deputy Director Bowman (Cliff Curtis, who I also reviewed in Fracture -- I like him, actually, he needs more roles) who is struggling against the chaos the cyber-terrorists are causing. (Has anyone else noticed that the bad guys these days seem to speak French a lot? I'm not sure why that is, but the trend continues here...) They shut down power grids, crash the New York Stock Exchange, and give every car at every intersection in every major city a green light, all at the same time. Ouch.

The government is scrambling to control the damage and save lives, and they have no time or resources to spare, really, for going after the root of the threat. So though Bowman does what he can, there's only one lone computer hacker and one lone New York cop to stop Big Bad and his team. Guess who wins?

The audience was really into this movie, I must say. And there were some very good lines, and some nice little unexpected bits amongst all the rather predictable mayhem. Kevin Smith (Yep, that Kevin Smith, of Clerks and Silent Bob fame) has a nice little part as one of Matt's fellow hackers, the Warlock, which I'll bet he had fun with. Mary Elizabeth Winstead, as the Bruce's daughter Lucy, actually gets a pretty good part, which doesn't often happen with the hero's dependents, and never once falls into damsel in distress mode, which was absolutely great. Though the Bruce is still the Bruce, he does need some tough youth on his side.

I was worried that he might seem too old for the film, actually, but that didn't happen. I couldn't understand why he didn't pass out at times from the sheer abuse of all those landings on concrete, the various explosions he was caught in, and of course the bullet holes, but I would have wondered that about a twenty-something. That's just the standard movie-hero toughness. But the character has the wisdom of experience, if not the energy of youth, and it really makes for a good sort of hero overall.

So, though I don't want to support the Hollywood tendency to assume that if one explosion is good, seventy-three must be better, I'm giving this three and a quarter idols. It still has a bit much of that sequel feel to it, but considering what fourth movies in a series are sometimes like, I'm not going to complain about that here. I have a feeling that, like Kevin Smith, everyone just tried to have fun with it, which is the best way to make the audience have fun too, I think. The only thing I didn't have fun with was all the computers blowing up. That's making me nervous.

Originally posted 6/2007. And here we are, more than five years later, and the Bruce is still getting himself beat up for a living.

Image: 
The Bruce gives Matt his first lesson in the fine art of Dying Hard.

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