Friday, July 06, 2007

Live Free or Die Hard (2007)

There are several moments in the new Live Free or Die Hard that simply could not exist in the universe that we, the audience, occupy. The movie absolutely decimates the laws of Newtonian physics; somewhere, right now Sir Isaac is bawling and planning how, exactly, he will get his revenge on Bruce Willis (my suggestion: get Satan to finance a Hudson Hawk 2). Live Free or Die Hard does not call for the suspension of disbelief; it asks for its complete annihilation.

Which is why Live Free or Die Hard is the stupid action movie you should see this holiday weekend should you deem that your holiday weekend should include the viewing of a stupid action movie. Live Free or Die Hard doesn't make a lick of sense — narratively, logically, emotionally — and it doesn't give a good damn. It is quite happy, thank you very much, to just be about a character we like doing impossible physical stunts we enjoy pretending a human might actually be capable of accomplishing. Transformers gets bogged down by its massive human cast and its fetishization of American military might; LFoDH is just stunts and gags, all killer no filler. Transformers can't even lay claim to have the coolest big rig in theaters this Independence Day. That award goes to the big'un Detective John McClane drives up a cloverleaf in order to destroy an F-35 fighter jet. Eat it, Prime.

McClane (Bruce Willis, of course) — who, I suddenly realize, is a big part of the inspiration for the character Kiefer Sutherland plays on 24, in that he manages to have more effed-up days than any human being could ever possibly have, and they always seem to involve saving members of his family from international peril — is once again the only man who can stop an "ingenious" terrorist plot. This time it's engineered by Deadwood's Timothy Olyphant, an evil genius who employs far more movie hackers than real hackers. Movie hackers, if you're unfamiliar, are just like the ones we have in real life except they look like movie stars and they know kung fu. Real hackers spend 16 hours a day in front of their computers and don't have the time (let alone the interest) to go to the gym four times a week, but movie hackers can somehow type 120 wpm while doing one-armed push-ups.

Still, at least two of the computer geniuses are well cast: Kevin Smith, in a brief role as an uber-nerd known as "The Warlock" and Justin Long as Matthew Farrell, an algorithm expert who does some work for Olyphant without realizing he's becoming an accessory to a cyber-apocalypse. Long is about to eliminated as part of Olyphant's plan, when Det. McClane shows up to escort him to Washington D.C. The lucky bastard survives and then tags along for the rest of the adventure, in much the same role Samuel L. Jackson occupied in 1995's Die Hard With a Vengeance. It is interesting, I think, to compare Jackson and Long. As the sidekick to the hero, they both exist to provide the audience a character to identify with and relate to, as well as another perspective on our lead. Jackson's character was a lower middle class shop owner, while Long is a computer geek. That difference says a great deal about where Hollywood is now compared to where it was 12 years ago. Today the Internet and its audience is deemed so important to the success of a franchise picture that they are given an onscreen representative, just as, in a different time, a little Asian kid suddenly got to hang out with Indiana Jones. Long's role isn't that much different than Shia LaBeouf's in Transformers either. He plays second-fiddle to a talking truck and helps saves the world through the use of eBay.

But I am clearly thinking too much for a movie that demands that you do as little thinking as possible to enjoy it. Here is an example of a scene that requires no actual thought in order for proper enjoyment: about halfway through the film, McClane and Farrell are trying to escape D.C. in order to figure out a way to defeat Olyphant, who has crippled the city's traffic grid with his total control of its stop lights. McClane and Farrell drive into a tunnel — which is problem number one. If traffic is so bad, how do they get into this tunnel without any problem? And, for that matter, where are all the cars? The mouth of the tunnel is totally empty.

Now Olyphant's helicopter (the one McClane will hit with a car, as seen in the film's trailer) tells him that it's going into the tunnel. Now he has a plan: he will let the traffic at the other end of the tunnel in, using every possible lane. Sounds good; unlike the end we watched McClane and Farrell enter, this one actually has cars sitting outside it. But with six lanes of cars streaming towards our heroes, Olyphant decides this isn't enough, so he let the traffic in from the other direction as well. Here's problem number two — we've already seen that end of the tunnel and we know there is no traffic in it. And yet when Olyphant's lackey clicks a few keystrokes, there the cars are, magically out of nowhere to menace our heroes.

We are not supposed to notice this. In fact, director Len Wiseman is counting on the fact that the scene will look and feel so exciting, we won't have time to realize this (or the fact that, somehow, a helicopter hovering above the mouth of the tunnel is able to fire on a car a quarter of a mile into the tunnel). For the most part, he is right. Long manages to play the annoying sidekick for laughs, no easy feat, and though Olyphant is no Alan Rickman — he's not even no Jeremy Irons — he does enough to convince us of his heinousness. Of course, Willis is always charming as McClane and this time he sports an even more agreeable Luddite-caveman un-P.C. vibe. Olyphant's character tells McClane that he is an outdated hero and, to a degree, Live Free or Die Hard is nearly as old-fashioned as he is. It harkens back to a time when action movies were allowed, if not encouraged, not to make sense, as the men at their center did things no man could ever do without the aid of a movie studio's effects department. This is a depressing fact in at least one way: it requires us to think of things from the late 1980s as "old-fashioned." Which makes me really, really old.


Blogger Great White Snark said...

Yes! Glad to know I'm not the only one who couldn't help but be distracted by the movie's overt trips into the realm of the ridiculous.

5:40 AM  

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