Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Living Free on Independence Day

Each year, in honor of my personal 4th of July tradition, I go to a movie on Independence Day. This year, I saw "Live Free or Die Hard," for a few reasons.

First of all, I saw the original (far superior) "Die Hard" movie on this same day in 1988. Secondly, it stars one of my favorite actors, Bruce Willis, who for the fourth time is portraying the hapless yet indestructible John McClane. And lastly, the plot (such as it is) deals with a terrorist attack against the communications and infrastructures of the United States.

This last aspect is a chilling scenario that we don't think about often enough. Just consider for a moment how paralyzed our civilization would be without the computerized technology we now view as mundane as a cup of morning coffee. To suddenly lose connections with our cell phones, blackberries, computers--and traffic lights--would indeed cause the immediate and universal panic in the streets depicted.

Of course, Hollywood still doesn't have the stones to portray Islamic terrorists as the bad guys. Oh no, these are American terrorists, whose ringleader is an arrogant former DoD computer brain who took umbrage when the government wouldn't listen to his warnings about the vulnerabilities of our security systems. Now, he's going to teach the country a lesson.

Sure, it could happen. So could world peace, but don't hold your breath.

All that aside, the film features the spectacular pyrotechnic overkill demanded of 21st century movies. The special effects are indeed jaw-dropping, but such flamboyance overshadows the appealing character of John McClane. Although some chuckles remain, gone is most of McClane's witty patter with the bad guys. It appears that in the 19 years ensuing since his first battle-to-the-death, gritty veteran McClane has indeed learned to "think, dammit, think!" All that high speed driving, air diving, car ramming, and assorted scenes of climbing, dangling, falling, rolling, punching--and of course, nearly endless shooting--doesn't leave too much screen time for any dialog, witty or otherwise.

In fact, poor John seems a bit weary and worn around the edges--perfectly understandable, as he has his AARP card but is still getting body slammed with alarming frequency. His 50+ age doesn't stop him from leaping to his feet, however--something I, speaking as one in his age group, found more incredible than his countless last-second escapes. Oh, he may hobble for a few frames, but rest assured that Teflon John will soon break into his next sprint to save the world. Emerging ever more tattered and bloodied from each explosion and fist fight, McClane resembles a bald, sad-eyed Terminator in desperate need of a 60,000 mile tune-up.

However, this is the "Die Hard" series, so you just have to accept that it's ridiculous and jump on to go for the thrill ride, anyway. It's always a fast-moving, fun show, and in this sequel, we learn that McClane is a Creedence fan. No wonder I've always liked the guy.