Is John McClane, like Sergeant Roger Murtaugh in Lethal Weapon, getting too old for this shit? Well, yeah, but that doesn’t seem to have any bearing on his ability to appear in Live Free or Die Hard, the fourth installment in the increasingly ludicrous action series about everyman New York City cop McClane (Bruce Willis) single-handedly stopping massive terrorist attacks. It’s been 12 years since we last saw McClane onscreen, in 1995’s Die Hard With a Vengeance, and his world has changed in the meantime: His daughter Lucy (glimpsed in the first film and now played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is a sullen college student who won’t talk to him; terrorists now use high-tech computer hacking methods to attack their targets; and he’s lost all his hair.
That last part is the only indication that McClane, now over 50 if he’s considered to be the same age as Willis, isn’t fit to run, jump, punch and shoot his way through the onslaught of vehicles, bullets and explosives launched at him by criminal mastermind Thomas Gabriel (Timothy Olyphant, coolly menacing), a former U.S. intelligence expert now bent on taking down the system he was once hired to protect. McClane’s (and the country’s) only hope against Gabriel’s crippling of the U.S. transportation, financial and utilities infrastructure is hacker/slacker Matt Farrell (Justin Long, better known as the Mac guy from Apple’s TV commercials), who was unwittingly hired to write part of the code that has now brought the eastern U.S. to a standstill.
Like Vengeance, Live Free turns McClane into one half of a mismatched crime-fighting duo, although Long is certainly no Samuel L. Jackson. Change around a few lines and this could easily be a generic action film completely unrelated to the Die Hard series, so longtime fans would be well-advised to moderate their continuity expectations (other than Lucy, no other characters from the previous films show up or even merit a mention). Then again, McClane does get to utter most of his catchphrase (“Yipee-ki-yay, motherf--ker”), and that may be all that some fans care about (that last word gets a bit muffled to preserve the film’s PG-13 rating).
Expectations of innovation and sharp dialogue and character work should be moderated as well, since director Len Wiseman (the Underworld films) seems far more interested in concocting ever-more-gigantic action sequences than in examining McClane’s personal life (a more central concern in the first two films). But, oh, those action sequences: Using a minimum of CGI, Wiseman stages some mind-boggling stunts, including the car-versus-helicopter bit you’ve seen in the trailers, and a tense set piece with an SUV in an elevator shaft. Like all action movies these days, Live Free is a little bloated, and by the time you get to McClane versus the fighter jet, it’s pretty ridiculous. But knowing when to quit is obviously not this franchise’s strong suit.
Long is, surprisingly, only minimally irritating, and the superlative action makes up for the glaring plot holes and limp dialogue. The movie could have done without the stabs at social commentary, which feel as out of touch as McClane himself when confronted with a computer. Battered, bruised and with several bullet wounds by the end of the movie, he looks ready to finally call it a day. But his sassy daughter, who gets in a few jabs at the bad guys herself, virtually guarantees we’ll at least see a cameo from McClane in five years or so, in Die Hard With a Vagina.
Live Free or Die Hard ***
Bruce Willis, Justin Long, Timothy Olyphant, Mary Elizabeth Winstead
Directed by Len Wiseman