Full-throttle action in 'Die Hard' belongs to Willis



In returning to his “Die Hard” role of iconic NYPD Detective John McClane after a long absence, Bruce Willis gives hope to aging, balding men everywhere as he appears not to have lost a step on his game.

Of course, Willis, who’s nearing the age to qualify for senior discounts at Denny’s, is buff and ready for action, looking more in shape than physical trainers half his age.

“Live Free or Die Hard,” the fourth installment that amps up the action to a new level of explosiveness, tests our hero’s endurance with the kind of butt-kicking challenges that would foil mere mortals, and Willis delivers a tough comeback performance that makes him the Rocky Balboa of the police force.

Having exhausted much of the action formula with more conventional plots and standard-issue villains, “Live Free or Die Hard” ups the ante with a grander scheme that taps into the more contemporary fears of cyber terrorism.

While the film should be faulted for its politically correct tilt with its choice of terrorists (again, a couple of them speaking French), there’s something deeply rewarding about pitting a blue-collar guy from the analog world (that would be Detective McClane) against a bunch of high-tech baddies operating at such an elevated plane in the digital world that they put the best techno geeks and computer hackers at risk.

The film begins with McClane coping with his estranged college-age daughter Lucy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), who is none too pleased that he’s giving her putative boyfriend a third-degree interrogation.

As if this family conflict wasn’t enough trouble, McClane is handed the absurdly routine assignment of picking up young hacker Matt Farrell (Justin Long) for questioning by the FBI. Then all hell breaks loose when a band of assassins rolls out a full-scale assault on Matt’s apartment, right at the very moment that McClane is picking up his charge for a quick trip to Washington, D.C.

It’s not giving away any real surprise to inform you that Matt is one of a group of cyber geeks slated for extermination because the villains commanded by the sneering, sniveling Thomas Gabriel (Timothy Olyphant) want to get rid of the few computer geniuses who could conceivably unravel their diabolical master plan.

Gabriel and his minions spare no effort to come after McClane and Matt with all the traditional firepower they can muster. The bad guys don’t want anyone to thwart what the geeks call a “fire sale,” which is apparently cyber talk for shutting down the entire computer and technical infrastructure of the United States, including all financial networks, utilities, transportation and government systems.

Since McClane hardly knows email from regular postal service, he is forced into an unlikely alliance with his geeky sidekick Matt in a quest to tap into the nerve center of the terrorists. This puts the odd couple on a road trip to West Virginia to get the reluctant help of master hacker Warlock (Kevin Smith), whose base of operations happens to be his mom’s basement. However, they spend most of their time running around Washington, D.C. and its suburbs, especially as the Capitol goes into full meltdown mode when the villains trip up the city’s transportation grid, turning the streets into carnage.

True to the franchise’s heritage, “Live Free or Die Hard” is a straight-ahead action ride, where the thrills and stunts never stop. To be sure, the action is completely over-the-top and frequently preposterous, but it matters little since this thrill ride is a pure adrenaline rush.

In an explosive freeway chase sequence, a Harrier jet in full pursuit fires upon and virtually destroys a big rig while portions of the freeway keep collapsing. A sedan hurtles through the air toward McClane and Matt, only missing them when it bounces off passing cars. How about the patrol car that McClane propels skyward like a fiery missile into a helicopter?

The straight-up best fight scene involves McClane in a vicious close-quarters fight with Gabriel’s nasty henchwoman Mai (Maggie Q), as they trade punches and kicks inside a car dangling vertically in an elevator shaft.

This fourth “Die Hard” doesn’t ask for much critical thinking, otherwise the whole premise would crumble from its outlandishness. What matters is that Bruce Willis is in a fine fettle as he wisecracks and busts chops. With his sardonic wit and fierce physical behavior in full form, his McClane character always rises to the occasion when the job becomes personal.

The film’s revenge element only seems to enhance Bruce Willis’ most capable handling of the full-blown action that “Live Free or Die Hard” requires.

Tim Riley writes film reviews for Lake County News.