Saturday, June 23, 2007

Harder Than The Rest

The Die Hard series of movies is one of my guilty pleasures. They don’t pretend to be anything other than what they are: big, noisy, escapist, and defiantly old-school extravanganzas. So I was happy to be able to sneak into a preview screening of the fourth and latest (courtesy of my critic pal, Kim Newman), albeit with a little foreboding. For after demolishing an office block in the first movie, an airport in the second, and large chunks of New York City in the third, how would the fourth in the series up the ante without becoming ridiculously overblown? How would the format adapt to its cyber-age plot (this isn’t Die Hard 4 or IV, after all, but Die Hard 4.0) without compromising its wild-west action formula of guns, fists, and brute cunning? And could Bruce Willis (the same age as me), still cut the mustard?

Well, as John McClane, Bruce still looks the part in a ripped and bloody vest, and his shaven head adds to his aura of Rushmore-like granite resolve. The story, involving a cyber-villain threatening the entire United States, and a series of chases that rip up large parts of the eastern seaboard, is driven along with enough action and kinetic velocity to stop you wondering about its implausibility. The bad guy, played by Timothy Olyphant (the sheriff in Deadwood), is utterly humourless, like all cyber-villains. There’s an awful lot of typing by the bad guys and the hacker sidekick McClane picks up, but it doesn’t slow up the action too much. There’s car v. helicopter fu, car in an elevator shaft fu, truck fu, jet fighter fu, and fisticuffs versus kung fu fu. At two and a half hours, the movie is about half an hour too long, I think it was a mistake to open up the cat-and-mouse format and stage the set-piece finale in the great outdoors, and in a series predicated on real action there’s rather too much CGI, and McClane is now about as hard to kill as a Terminator. But if you’re looking for a good dumb, noisy action movie, you can do far worse than this.

One thing puzzled me. There were free Snickers bars at the screening, the hacker sidekick had a bit about how hungry he was, and later opened a glove compartment to reveal a Snickers bar. But he didn’t eat it. Was it cut by the BBFC because it was too blatant an instance of product placement?
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