2007; Director: Len Wiseman; Writers:
With Bruce Willis, Justin Long, Timothy Olyphant, Maggie Q,. Mary Elizabeth Winstead
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Available Nov. 20, List Price $34.98
It's been said by our friends, and by our foes: Movies plus cars equals America. Well, terrific car stunts plus a star like Bruce Willis equals a good action movie. In this fourth Die Hard adventure, Willis, as New York City detective John McClane, is transporting a young hacker named Matt (Long) to Washington, D.C., in hopes the kid's knowledge of a computer program he helped hack will keep an evil cyber-genius (Olyphant) from shutting down the government and of course ruling the world. It's a pretty cool show, thanks both to Willis' stature as Hollywood's last action hero and to some sensational stunts that rely less on CGI wizardry (a.k.a., cheating) and more on old-fashioned mechanical skills.
The most amazing: McClane heads into a tunnel, but the villain rigs the signage system and sends other cars speeding toward McClane in both directions. Matt stupidly bolts from McLane's auto and our hero runs out to get him. Suddenly one car comes tumbling through the air straight at them, and they miss being killed because just as the car is to land on them, two other vehicles drive on either side of the guys and the hurtling car lands smack on top of the other two. Watching that scene, the critic in me dissolved into a Saturday-matinee kid and whispered a reverential "Wow." (The extras on this two-disc DVD provide the full inside poop on how this miracle was achieved. You also get the movie's unrated version, with more splatter and a fuller rendition of McClane's "Yippie-ki-yay" catchphrase.)
In a couple of pleasing ways besides the car-nage and the stunts, the film is an American anachronism. It renounces the recent movie trend of foreign, mostly Muslim, terrorists for the good old, bad old U.S. type. For too long Hollywood has ceded these plum roles to Asians and Middle Easterners, as if America didn't have its own colorful history of homegrown crazies determined to wipe us all out. Does no one remember Ted Kaczynski, Timothy McVeigh, the still-at-large anthrax mailer from September 2001? Live Free or Die Hard is a solid start in helping us close the Political Psychopath gap -- in reopening, for movie business, our Department of Homeland Terrorism.
McClane is the central anachronism of the piece "a Timex watch in a digital age," as Matt tells him and the movie's definitive statement that there's still room for a dinosaur hero, if only to fight the enveloping military-computerate complex. (John McClane for President!) Willis is 52, and the one star from the Bronzed Age of Ô80s action movies who still can persuasively embody a haunted, implacable stud. The first Die Hard picture came out in 1988, when Willis was a pup of 33. He's played this character, on and off, for most of his professional career, and it still suits. McClane gives him juice; he gives McClane grit. With his coiled poise and the compact gestures of an assured star, Willis exudes worldly wariness and cosmic weariness, as if he'd achieved a state of Zen machismo. He's like an Eastwood character who wandered into a James Bond movie and made himself at home there.