Saturday 8 December 2007

Die Hard 4.0 (2007)

Saturday 8 December 2007
Director: Len Wiseman
Writers: Mark Bomback (based on a story by Mark Bomback & David Marconi and characters by Roderick Thorp)

Cast: Bruce Willis (John McClane), Justin Long (Matt Farrell), Timothy Olyphant (Thomas Gabriel), Cliff Curtis (Miguel Bowman), Maggie Q (Mai Linh), Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Lucy McClane), Tim Russ (Agent Summers), Kevin Smith (Warlock/Freddie), Christina Chang (Taylor), Yorgo Constantine (Russo), Andrew Friedman (Casper), Sung Kang (Raj), Matt O'Leary (Clay), Cyril Raffaelli (Rand) & Jonathan Sadowski (Trey)

Police officer John McClane has to stop a gang of cyber-terrorists from crippling the country...

The original Die Hard is still considered a template for action movies; by limiting the action to one place, and casting Bruce Willis as a heroic everyman audiences could identify with -- in an era where cartoon muscle-men Schwarzenegger and Stallone ruled supreme.

After one duff sequel that transplanted the premise to an airport, and one that entertained but chose to expand across New York City, the more sprawling fourth movie has touched down -- an amazing 12 years after the third film, and an astonishing 19 years since the first!

Die Hard 4.0 (the international title, preferred by director and Willis to its native Live Free Or Die Hard) finds Bruce Willis back as John McClane, this time in a cyber-terrorism storyline that plays on technological fear and post-911 concerns.

Timothy Olyphant (Go) plays Thomas Gabriel, another dastardly villain with misguided morals, who has orchestrated a mass breakdown of America's high-tech infrastructure. It's a so-called "firesale", that essentially means he has the country's future at his fingertips.

NYPD cop McClane (always in "the wrong place at the wrong time") gets involved when he's asked to find a computer hacker called Matt Farrell (Justin Long), a smart-ass kid who has unwittingly provided an algorithm for the terrorists, and is now targeted by them for assassination.

From there, Die Hard 4.0 becomes a whirlwind of action set-pieces, with John dragging Matt around, avoiding gunfire from a pursuing attack helicopter, dodging chaotic traffic, navigating through a pitch-black underground tunnel, running from an exploding power station, and many others...

As a sequel, it allies itself with Die Hard With A Vengeance, rather than the original masterpiece; choosing expansive action and huge explosions and forgetting that it was the claustrophobic situation and cat-and-mouse banter between hero and villain that really stoked Die Hard's fire in 1988.

But, at least we have John McClane. To be honest, most Bruce Willis action movie performances are filtered through his McClane persona, so it's hard to feel as if McClane's been absent from the screen for that long. I mean, wasn't that McClane detonating a nuclear bomb on an asteroid in Armageddon?

Regardless of Willis' range, he unleashes his goofy charm and smirking tough-guy act. But, without Alan Rickman (or even Jeremy Irons) to bounce off, his shtick isn't quite as engaging as it used to be. Timothy Olyphant does what he can, but he has all the malice of an angry Tim Henman with a laptop.

Justin Long (Jeepers Creepers) fares better as McClane's "partner", creating an enjoyable camaraderie with Willis that equals that of Samuel L. Jackson from the previous film. The age gap also highlights a running theme in the film; that McClane's advancing years means he's unable to get a handle on new-fangled modern technology.

The film's concept is good fun -- as it's scary to see how much trust we put into computers that are susceptible to outside interference, and director Len Wiseman (Underworld) keeps everything lively and occasionally quite thrilling.

I don't think Wiseman's a particularly strong director, but he can certainly orchestrate action sequences, and Die Hard 4.0 contains a few memorable shots: a helicopter being struck by a car, an airborne car narrowly missing McClane and Farrell, and a climactic truck versus F-35 jet stand-off. Sadly, though, the trailers gave away pretty much every money-shot...

Ultimately, Die Hard 4.0 is enjoyable and entertaining, but it's unable to become anything more than a visually-more-arresting expansion of ...With A Vengeance. I preferred the pressure-cooker feel of Die Hard, and particularly relished Rickman's scene-chewer... but there's nothing that approaches that quality here.

Technically, it's slick and difficult to fault, and Willis is on good form, but it's just a breezy sequence of set-pieces without any tangible sense of threat, or unpredictable twists.

The gorgeous Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Final Destination 3) is wasted as McClane's young daughter, filmmaker Kevin Smith gets a clich├ęd role as a basement-dwelling geek, Mission: Impossible III's ass-kicker Maggie Q is delicious but wasted, the film is about 20 minutes too long, and it waters-down all grittiness you expect from the Die Hard brand. Basically, you know you're in trouble when the hero's f-word catchphrase is censored by a gunshot...

Die Hard 4.0 is competent and certainly not a disaster, but all it does it pass 128 minutes of your time: which is fine for a dumb action movie, but disappointing for a sequel to a solid-gold classic.

Warner Brothers
Budget: $110 million
128 minutes