Thursday, December 27, 2007

Live Free or Die Hard

I don't know why, but I have a strange obsession with this movie.

It's kind of like the strange obsession I have with the quarterback of the Baltimore Ravens, Kyle Boller.

I shouldn't have such an unhealthy obsession on something so crappy as Kyle Boller, but I do. I root for the kid every week, hoping that this is the week he suddenly turns into John Elway or at least Jay Cutler.

After all, Boller was a high draft pick, so there were high expectations when the Ravens selected him in the first round. But since he was drafted, Boller has been a roller coaster ride of ups and downs.

The same can be said of Live Free or Die Hard.

When the film was finally announced (it had been rumored for years), I was excited to see John McClane back on the big screen. Yet when I saw the film, I couldn't help but be let down, like I was watching Kyle Boller play.

For one, the theatrical release of the film was PG-13. It was a slap in the face of Die Hard fans. The first three films had been prototypical R-rated action films made for adults but aimed directly at the G.I. Joe generation. And I grew up on these films, watching them back to back late one night while the parents were asleep. So when I heard about the PG-13 rating, I was instantly let down, the same way I was when I heard that Aliens Vs. Predator was going to be PG-13.

And as I walked out of the theater upon first viewing the film, I came to the following conclusions:

1. This wasn't a Die Hard film. First, it wasn't rated R and second, McClane had been turned into an invincible action hero. He threw cars at helicopters, jumped off spiraling-out-of-control F-35 fighter jets, and even worse, became CGI likeness of Bruce Willis at one point in the film. I felt like I was playing the old PlayStation game Apocalypse again. If ever there was a flesh and blood action hero that could be killed, it was John McClane. But not here. It was like he grabbed the star from Super Mario Bros. and ran with it for the entire movie.

2. The plot was lame because computers aren't scary. If my Mac freezes up (which it does all the time), it's a pain in the ass. I reboot. If my bank's computers went crazy and I lost all my money, I'd expect it to be fixed in a reasonable amount of time. So when LFODH is about computer hackers trying to bring down America's computerized infrastructure, excuse me if I'm not thrilled. Handled differently, I think it could have been effective, but as it was, it sounded like a lot of techno-babble and nothing as immediately dangerous as any of the threats in the first three films.

3. Too much time was spent on characters who are useless. Cliff Curtis is an excellent actor. He's been great in more movies than you probably realize. But here, he is wasted as some government suit, barking orders at his subordinates. If he ever joined in the action the way that Al Powell did in the original film, his character may have become something other than a way for the writers to explain what was going on to the viewer. Instead, he came off like an unwanted Greek chorus .

4. The villain sucked. Timothy Olyphant, like Curtis, is a solid actor. He's got a great deadpan delivery that makes you wonder if he is joking or serious. But as Thomas Gabriel, he comes across as a stubborn geek who doesn't like it when McClane messes with his plans. And we know, right off the bat, that McClane can kick his ass mano y mano.

That said, LFODH still manages to be a fun ride. And it has a lot of good things going for it.

Justin Long is serviceable, if not likable, as McClane's techno-wiz sidekick, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead manages to inject that McClane moxy into her character in limited screen time. Her character should have been expanded. The movie also looks, and sounds great. And despite being a PG-13 film, the body count is high and there are still some good one-liners.

But it all still managed to come up short in the end.

So did the Unrated version of the film help things? Yes and no.

For one, there is a lot more language in the unrated version. I counted about a dozen and a half F-bombs. And while that might sound trivial, cussing is what made John McClane who he is -- someone who would rather be anywhere else than where he is, and he'd let you know it with a well-placed blue streak. Thankfully, this comes across better in the unrated version.

Second, there is more violence, but it's mostly CGI blood bursts when someone is shot. In my opinion, this was added after the original release was completed to satisfy the fans who complained upon hearing of a PG-13 rating. And after seeing I Am Legend, where all the zombies were needlessly computer generated, I can't help but look back on the good old days when blood squibs were used for gunshot wounds and make-up artists earned their paychecks instead of opting for cheap and easy CGI.

But in the end, all the extra violence and cussing in the world can't save a Die Hard film that was flawed from the beginning. Even though Len Wiseman tries to inject some old flourishes of the series into this new installment, LFODH just comes across as a modern-age action movie with the Die Hard stamp affixed on it's movie poster and a few references tossed into the script to keep fans loyal.

Is it a fun film? Hell yeah. And the DVD is put together nicely. The sconces on my wall sounded like they were going to shatter or break off the wall when the action began.

But in the end, it just doesn't feel like a Die Hard film the same way that Kyle Boller doesn't feel like an NFL quarterback.

And I'm still disappointed even thought it could be worse.

FILM SCORE (out of ****): Theatrical Version **1/2, Unrated Version ***
BEST SCENE: Apartment shoot-out.
FILM STATUS: Die Hard film in name only, but still worth a watch.


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