Still crazy after all these years

Live Free or Die Hard

I don’t care. Either Chunky Monkey or Cherry Garcia is fine.

I don’t care. Either Chunky Monkey or Cherry Garcia is fine.

Rated 4.0

You, the Die Hard fan, have every right to be skeptical about the fourth film in the franchise. It’s taken 12 years for the latest to hit screens, Bruce Willis no longer has his cool Moonlighting ‘do, and director Len Wiseman’s Underworld films kind of stunk. On top of all that, 20th Century Fox decided to tone down the trademark violence and bad language in order to secure a commercially safe PG-13, making this installment the first in the series not to garner an R.

Stop fretting, for Live Free or Die Hard is a good, swift kick in this summer movie season’s pansy ass, even with the PG-13. The further adventures of one John McClane prove (after last year’s totally fun Rocky Balboa) that our old movie heroes have plenty of life left in them. And while McClane can no longer exclaim, “Yippee Ki Yay Motherfucker!” due to the wrong behavior that word infers, I assure you, the director and his performers more than make up for the loss.

When we first see McClane this time out, he’s tired, he’s grizzled, and he’s grouchy. A pushy boy is trying to go too far with his daughter (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), and he’s fully prepared to kick him some college student butt. Then he gets the call. The call McClane always seems to get. The call that will get him in a whole lot of trouble. He needs to transfer a computer hacker named Matt Farrell (Justin Long) to Washington, D.C. Shortly upon meeting up with the guy for the trip, the bullets start flying.

The big problem: A former federal employee who tried to warn the government about cyber terrorism has decided to show them what he was talking about. He creates a “fire sale,” where everything controlled by computers is shut down, causing untold mayhem. The evil tech villain, played by a steely-eyed Timothy Olyphant, is also greedy, just like your typical Die Hard villain.

The action and stunts are top notch. In fact, some of the action-set pieces are the best I’ve seen in a long while. Wiseman uses a lot of old-school special effects and stunts in lieu of CGI, so that means the explosions and falls you are seeing are the real deal. They are also often implausible and ridiculous, in keeping with the Die Hard tradition. I cite McClane killing a helicopter with a car as a shining example of how to overdo your action movie with gusto.

Willis looks like he’s having a good a time with the flick. He’s still having those McClane dialogues with himself, bemoaning his tendency to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. The guy may’ve lost his hair, but he hasn’t lost a step.

As for Long in the sidekick role, he’s consistently funny and credible as a computer geek. (Hey, he is the Apple guy, after all.) His trademark delivery of funny dialogue under his breath, as if he’s scared to say it, never gets old. He’s the perfect complement for McClane. Kevin Smith makes a small but funny cameo as a fellow computer geek who hates authority figures.

As for the PG-13, it may’ve contributed to the film’s biggest flaw. I’m thinking they filmed a harder version of this movie, then, perhaps, changed their minds about the R-rating. I say this because the dialogue often doesn’t match the film we are seeing. It also results in some messy editing. It’s just a theory, but I’m thinking that’s why I thought I saw McClane’s mouth say “Jerk off!” but heard “Jackass!”

So, the Die Hard franchise now has the distinction of making it to four films, all of them good. Most series peter out by three, so this is a nice accomplishment. Willis is already talking about part five after saying he would never make the fourth. God bless his fickle ass.