One of the more frustrating aspects of action movies in the 00’s was the unnecessary existences of the “harder cut”. Now, what this would generally mean is in order to score a wider (eg. younger) audiences at the cinema an action movie would be released with the violence and language toned down only to have a “special edit” come out later on DVD with all the bad language words and blood sprays put back in while somehow keeping the same rating. However, when it was announced that the latest installment of the Die Hard franchise was planning on turning down the series trademark of drizzling gore of multiple exit wounds there was understandable cries of blasphemy. After all, neutering the splatter from a Die Hard flick is bad enough but if there’s restrictions on swearing too then how on earth is John McClane going to speak his celebrated F-bomb catchphrase. These days it’s not that much of an issue but LFODH (renamed Die Hard 4.0 outside the U.S. for people unaware of the motto of the state of New Hampshire) had the rather unfortunate timing of getting it’s home release between the transition of DVD to Blu Ray meaning that the more violent, more “Die Hard-y” DVD exclusive version never turned up on the new format and has simply disappeared into the ether…
Ordered to pick up computer hacker Matt Farrell and drive him to Washington DC, world weary New York detective John McClane finds himself in trouble up to his bald head when he stumbles across a plan to disable the entire superstructure of the United States in an act of techno-terrorism known as a Fire Sale – as in everything must go.
Zig zagging across the state during Independence Day weekend with Farrell in tow, McClane avoids various attempts to assassinate his young charge and tries to thwart the plans of shift bar tapping psychopath, Thomas Gabriel who has set this whole thing in motion to not only prove a point, but use the chaos to steal a fuck ton of money in true Die Hard style.
Famed and notorious old-schooler McClane has to get his head around various “modern” concepts (The internet! Lowjacking! Jumpy parkour bad guys!) and take out the bad guys in typically sardonic style utilizing headbutts, bullets and in one instance, hurling a car at a helicopter and then acting nonchalant as a motherfucker.
As McClane and Farrell (but mostly McClane) steadily whittles the number of bad guys down, Gabriel resorts to more personal measures and desides to target McClane’s hard nosed daughter, Lucy in an attempt to halt the dogged detective in his tracks but if that doesn’t work, there’s always that fighter jet flying around local airspace that he has the go-codes for…
Whether you’re lucky enough to view the harder cut or your stuck with the PG-13 edition, one thing is abundantly clear, all the blood splats and four-letter words in the world isn’t enough to stop the film from being an aggressively 3-star movie but it’s nowhere near the betrayal that fans accused it of at the time.
In fact, considering the movie is the result of an incredibly traumatic shoot which featured no script, interfering studio heads and Bruce Willis apparently being VERY hands on with how the story was progressing (if you listen very, very closely you can practically hear director Len Wiseman prematurely aging the longer the film goes on) the final product is slick, coherent and fast paced.
The action, while admittedly jumping the shark in a rainbow coloured wheelbarrow with sparklers taped to side, is genuinely well shot and edited with the much derided scene where McClane DRIVES A TRUCK OVER A COLLAPSING OVERPASS, FALLS OUT THE BACK AND CLINGS TO THE SIDE OF A CRASHING FUCKING FIGHTER JET is suprisingly well pulled off despite being as likely as an octopus competing in the biathalon at the Winter Olympics but isn’t that what action movies are all about. Ok, yes – it’s more far fetched than Willis hurling himself off the side of an exploding building, punching people on the wing of a moving plane or surfing a dump truck through a flooding tunnel but surely not THAT much more? Similarly a fight scene where our lead gets his aging butt handed to him by a stoney faced Maggie Q only to retaliate by driving a van into her and ploughing it down a lift shaft is just as ludicrous but still laudibly tense.
The utter basic basics of a Die Hard movie are dutifully adhered to:
A) John McClane is fiercely blue collar/old school and therefore diametrically opposite to the upper class, techno-shit that’s going on around him.
B) During the action scenes John McClane must bleed like a hemophiliac who is unfamiliar with the act of shaving
– and the movie diligently gets down to the serious business hurling stuntmen around even though the grey bullet squibs in the censored version makes it look like everyone is bleeding dust.
When it comes to the performaces, say what you will, this is the last great action performance that Brucie managed to turn in where he actually runs and jumps about before that stage in his career set in where he just stood around looking gumpy and disinterested at virtually everything going on around him. In comparison, Timothy Olyphant’s villian duties are disappointingly straight forward with only a fraction of the charisma he displays in Justified, Deadwood and Santa Clarita Diet on display here so give thanks for Justin Long who’s perpetually terrified sidekick hacker is good for multiple jokes at Willis’ expence. Chuck in a good turn from Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Lucy McClane/Genearo and a typically verbose cameo by Kevin Smith and things tick along nicely.
What ultimately let’s Live Free And Die Hard down, however is that any scenes inbetween the car crunching and torso shooting betrays the lack of existence of a locked down, finished screenplay. It proves to be fairly apparent, especially when so many scenes are people standing around trying to explain the why’s and wherefore’s of internet terrorism to one another in massive dumps of exposition.
Hardly the nadir of the Die Hard franchise some would lead you to believe (wait till you see the frightful pile of shit that comes next!) but not exactly a timeless classic of the genre either, this forth outing is polished, fun and sporadically great but fails to come close to the warm glowing warming glow of the original.
Literally for die hard Die Hard fans only…