Sunday, July 8, 2007
DIE HARD 4.0 (2007) - Len Wiseman
In the past, I've made a lot of sounds about the decisions 20th Century Fox were making with the production of Die Hard 4.0, or Live Free or Die Hard as it's known in the US. And last night, I finally got to witness the all the decisions put together into the third sequel in the John McClane saga. The hiring of Len Wiseman as director, the decision to tailor the film to the PG-13 market, the signs were not good for the film. However, as with all films, it deserved it's chance to impress, so I walked in with as open a mind as I could manage. And for the next two hours, I watched a film that is in no way, shape, or form, a Die Hard film.
Die Hard 4.0 opens with a bunch of computer geeks doing some computer stuff that leads to a bunch of FBI agents getting all hot and bothered. They send out a call for police departments all over the US to bring the top 1000 computer hackers in for questioning. In New York, John McClane (Bruce Willis back for a fourth outing) is spying on his daughter getting jiggy with a young fella. McClane steps in, only to have his daughter chastise him for never being around and telling her pop she doesn't want to see him anymore. That's their relationship firmly established. McClane is ordered to go pick up Matt Farrell (Justing Long), one of the hackers on the FBI's list. McClane arrives to pick up Farrell and that's when the bullets begin to fly. A group of cyber terrorists want Farrell dead for his part in their grand plan to bring the US to a stand-still. And thus begins the chasing and killing as McClane struggles to keep Farrell alive and bring down the terrorists. Oh yeah, there's a bit where the terrorists kidnap McClane's daughter, just to up the stakes a little.
Okay. Die Hard is a modern classic. In it, we had a normal, blue-collar cop trading bullets and one-liners with Euro-trash terrorists, and coming out on top. The key to the success of the film was the fact that McClane was an average guy. He hurt, he bled, he looked like he suffered. Sure, this was diminished slightly in the two immediate sequels, but the essence remained. What we have in Die Hard 4.0 is an indestructible, superhero. This is the first problem with the movie. Willis, who is pretty much reliably entertaining in most of what he does, really gives it his best shot to recapture some of the character he created way back in 1988. He cracks wise at the appropriate times. He punches and fires a gun with suitable conviction. But taken in context with the rest of the movie, this just isn't McClane. The action is so utterly over the top and unrealistic, that the character becomes a tiny element in the overall spectacle. McClane takes on wave after wave of bad guy, helicopters, even a fighter jet (which is piloted by the most incompetent pilot in the USAF) and walks away unscathed.
There are some interesting set pieces in Die Hard 4.0, but absolutely nothing original. Director Len Wiseman, who has previously only made two pretty dire Underworld movies, plagiarises everything from The Lost World: Jurassic Park II to True Lies in a desperate attempt to prove he can make big budget action. And because of this, the film becomes tiresome pretty quickly. The script, written by Mark Bomback, really tries to make this a Die Hard film by putting as many references to the previous films as possible, but in the end, this is just an action film with a character and title that's familiar. Other than these weak references, there's little else to make this a Die Hard film.
Remarkably, Justin Long is watchable in the film. I really expected to hate his character, as with most of these cliched smart-ass young characters, but he does a fairly credible job as Willis' side-kick. Timothy Olyphant is absolutely ineffectual as bad guy Thomas Gabriel, not even scratching the surface of the brilliance of Alan Rickman in Die Hard or even Jeremy Irons in Die Hard: With A Vengeance. The most interesting bad guys are Maggie Q as Gabriel's kung-fu cyber geek girlfriend and Cyril Raffaelli, who's stunts were previously showcased in the highly entertaining Banlieue 13. Cliff Curtis, who popped up in this year's Sunshine plays the FBI agent in charge of stopping Gabriel, but apart from a weak and highly cliched interdepartmental competition subplot between the FBI and NSA, has little to do. And Kevin Smith also appears... nuff said about that.
Finally, something must be said about the way the film is edited. The reason I bring this up is I found that there was something very wrong with this aspect of the film. As previously mentioned, Fox decided to make this film a PG-13 movie, where as the previous films were 18's (UK) or R (US). This appears to be a decision that was made after the filming was completed. Throughout the film there were a number of occasions where the film was edited extremely poorly, cutting away from characters (most of the time McClane) mid-sentence. I get the feeling that it was at moments where expletives were being uttered. The shots cut away so redubbing could be applied and audio and visuals wouldn't appear out of sync. In one scene in particular, characters speak (albeit in the background) but their mouths don't move, and they face different angles in different shots. Now, I will admit, this is speculation on my part. But given that Fox wanted a cleaned-up version of the film for the theatres, I wouldn't be surprised if an 'Uncut' version of this film appears on DVD with all the original edits in place. If this is the case, it speaks volumes for how dire the state of the film industry is. Anything for a quick buck.
All said and done, there are some sweet little moments in Die Hard 4.0. McClane gets one or two laughs, and Willis does pull off the tough guy thing quite well (even if the action is over the top). But this isn't a Die Hard movie. It's a very very average action movie with the Die Hard title slapped on it.