Bruce Is Back and Badder Than Ever
It’s hard to believe that it’s been a dozen years since Die Hard 3, but nobody can complaining about the wait when a sequel’s as scintillating as this. Bruce Willis is back and larger than life as NYPD Detective John McClane, an anachronistic, analog crime fighter in a hi-tech, digital age. The point of departure is the Fourth of July weekend, on which we find the grizzled gumshoe taking on a presumably routine assignment, namely, to deliver a kid named Matt Farrell (Justin Long) to the FBI for questioning.
But soon after McClane picks up Matt, it becomes quite clear that this wisecracking computer hacker has enemies who will stop at nothing to prevent him from reaching the Bureau’s headquarters in Washington, DC. In this regard, the arc of Die Hard 4 is identical to Willis’ 16 Blocks, a recent outing where he played a cop frustrated at every turn in his effort to escort a man to court through a gauntlet of adversaries out to prevent the witness from testifying.
However, that movie bears little resemblance beyond the storyline, as this jaw-dropping adventure is the first film of the season truly deserving of the moniker “summer blockbuster.” Die Hard 4 is a non-stop roller coaster ride with more pulsating action, pound-for-pound, than any of the competition. The secret is that it rarely relies on computer-generated imagery for special effects.
This old school approach of elaborately-staged, balls-out stunt work proves to be worth the trouble, because it’s easy to discern the difference between an actor actually making a death-defying leap off a ledge and one just faking it in front of a blue screen. Trust me, reality is far more riveting. It’s that simple.
The plot isn’t anywhere as complicated as it might sound. Thomas Gabriel (Timothy Oliphant), a cerebral cyber terrorist, is trying to bring the U.S. to its knees via what he calls a “Fire Sale” where everything must go. His diabolical plan is to maximize chaos and confusion by shutting down the country’s infrastructure electronically, including its communication, transportation, financial and power systems. Gabriel has an army of goons, including a svelte sidekick skilled in martial arts in the person of Mai Lihn (Maggie Q),
Meanwhile, McClane and Matt grudgingly become buddies, the former supplying the brawn, the latter the brains, as they match wits with an army of far better equipped, evil adversaries. Our heroes encounter a close brush with death every other minute or so, each one an eye-popping spectacle, whether it’s cars hurtling through the air, machine gun-fire from a helicopter, a hovering Harrier jet, or hand-to-hand combat in an elevator shaft.
Fortunately, this continuously-calamitous countdown to Armageddon unfolds way too quickly for you to question all the cartoon physics or to pause to ponder how the bad guys remain endlessly supplied with so many weapons and reinforcements. Sprinkled in amidst all the breathtaking explosions and pyrotechnics is the right mix of comic relief, most of which come courtesy of the badinage between the boys during downtime.
As for the supporting cast, Kevin Smith makes a distracting cameo appearance of little consequence in a throwaway role which looks like Silent Bob wandered in from the set of Clerks. There is, however, another performance worth noting, namely, Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s endearing turn as Lucy, McClane’s daughter and damsel-in-distress. It’s amusing to watch as sparks start to fly between her and Matt, much to the chagrin of her overprotective father.
A satisfying throwback which reminds us how a big-budget is supposed to be made. If you only see one film this summer, you need to get out more. But make this the one you choose.
Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG-13 for sexuality, expletives and intense violence.
Running time: 130 minutes
Studio: 20th Century Fox