Live Free or Die Hard: Fun and Forgettable

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Frank Masi / 20th Century Fox

Bruce Willis reprises his roll for a fourth time as John McClane in Live Free or Die Hard.

I don't recall by what cracked narrative logic the SUV got into the elevator shaft, although it's perfectly clear why John McClane (Bruce Willis) and bad gal Mai (Maggie Q) are fighting to the death as they cling to the tottering vehicle-because all of us (the filmmakers, the audience) really want them to. I mean, why would you put a sexy mystery woman into Live Free or Die Hard if not bring her into conflict with its weary, but still nicely toned hero and witness the slender beauty and the rudely wise-cracking beast battle each other. It's nice, clean sado-masochism that doesn't endanger the blessed PG-13 rating.

Still, it's a pretty good sequence in a movie that's full of pretty good—if insanely improbable—sequences, including one high point moment in which a car driven by Willis manages to knock a malevolently hovering helicopter right out of the air. Realism is not, shall we say, high on the list of director Len Wiseman's priorities. At the screening I attended you could sense the audience's adrenaline pumping and then hear the applause burst forth when Willis and his computer nerd buddy Matt Farrell (the very cute Justin Long) escaped from assorted, largely fiery villainies on a regular—say, every ten minutes or so—basis.

The bad guys in this instance are led by a rogue computer genius named Gabriel (Timothy Olyphant) who has been shabbily treated by the federal government. He intends to get his revenge by hacking into every computer-run system in the country, beginning with the transportation grid and ending with the financial system, from which he intends to drain every last penny before he's finished. His scheme is called a "fire sale" (as in "everything must go") and, of course, it will make him rich. But that's not the point; the point is revenge. The central joke of the movie-and its not a bad one-is that it takes a rogue cop (McClane) to catch a rogue mastermind, nevermind the fact that McClane is so obviously computer illiterate. It's hard to imagine him owning a PC, let alone cruising the Internet in search of blog tidbits or pornish delights. But if he did, we can only imagine him picking up a computer and hurling it to the floor when for some reason he had trouble paying bills online or balancing his checkbook. In other words, his short-tempered everyman has been dragged snarling and fretful into the computer age, and there's some fun to be had from him.

McClane has—in addition—a bad relationship with his daughter, which the movie eventually repairs, and a funny one with Farrell, who emerges from his first car chase complaining of a skinned knee and a potential asthma attack. Naturally, Farrell toughens up considerably by the time the last fireball blasts past his ear. Could the movie have used a few more grumbly witticisms from McClane? Absolutely. Could Mark Bomback's script have been more probable? Sure. Are we perhaps getting a little tired of movies over-loaded with high-tech gear, whirring numbers on multiple screens and the barking of incomprehensible instructions to the techies tapping away at their keyboards? I think so.

But that's not why we're at the theater watching Live Free. We're there to be rendered breathless by the stunts and the CGI tricks, which are admirably managed. And for the film's relentless, one-damn-thing-after-another pacing. In its primitiveness, its refusal of anything like psychological nuance or big ideas, lies its dubious glory. It is a movie born to be forgotten-except as something that against your better judgment, you had a pretty good time watching back in the summer of '07. Which is more than you can say for other elephantine sequels moping dolorously around us this year.