When 1988's Die Hard recently topped Entertainment Weekly's list of "25 greatest action movies of all time," it spoke to the original's ass-kicking immortality and to the chilling effect it's had on two decades worth of blow-'em-up cinema. The moment Bruce Willis's everyman-supercop John McClane uttered his first "Yippie-ki-yay," the action flick game changed forever; the bad-boy 'tudes and explosive stunts took even bigger leaps into the histrionic stratosphere. This idiotic escalation of carnage completes a logical loop in this new (fourth) installment of the franchise, which is every bit as formulaic as its ancestor was innovative. This time out, analog old-schooler Willis is paired with a dorky digital-code monkey upgrade in the form of Justin Long, best known as the self-satisfied hipster from those Apple ads.
Veteran N.Y.P.D detective McClane escorts super-hacker Matt Farrell (Long) to D.C. for questioning by the feds, when all hell breaks loose on the eastern seaboard. The goons who burgle Matt's bachelor pad and kill his action figure collection are part of a huge conspiracy to short-circuit the nation's entire electronic infrastructure. See, Matt inadvertently wrote a vital bit of the bad guys' programming, and they need to off him before he crashes the whole system.
All this high-tech crap's above McClane's pay grade he's a blunt instrument to be pointed at something to smash, and damn if he doesn't get plenty of chances. Dinosaur Bruce works through waves of high-kicking and acrobatic henchmen, slyly commenting on the new breed of fight scenes by grunting "enough of this kung fu shit" before dispatching a villain.
Stuff blows up real good in Live Free, all kinds of stuff, like: helicopters, SUVs, highway overpasses, elevator shafts and, in one sequence, an entire industrial park. Getting the jump on next month's Transformers, there's even a showdown between a semi-truck and a fighter jet, which, depending on your mood, is either screamingly awesome or profoundly stupid. Between car crashes and shootouts, the stars get lots of room to hash out their "Hi, I'm a Mac and I'm a neanderthal" routine, with respective lessons exchanged in loosening up and the true meaning of heroism.
Missing is the steady hand of director John McTiernan (parts 1 and 3), replaced by the clumsy Len Wiseman, whose previous achievements include the vampire leather-fetish series Underworld. His tricks consist of washing out the color in a blue haze, and turning the emo-metal soundtrack way up. Kevin Smith acts with the same level of sophistication and skill he directs with, but his cameo as Mom's basement-dwelling hacker "Warlock" is still a hoot.
No one has ever made computer hacking exciting on screen and after the bullets stop flying, the real crux of the action comes down to dueling bouts of furious typing, which is every bit as thrilling as it sounds. The story is essentially an Enemy of the State rewrite, laden with conspiracy theories and big government paranoia, though with a decidedly reactionary bent. These newfangled cyber twerps are useful, but can't be trusted. And when shit really hits fan, only an old, all-American macho dip can whip any ass that deserves it.
Corey Hall writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.