Dir: Len Wiseman. US. 2007. 129mins
'You're a Timex watch in a digital age'. So says the smooth master criminal pitted against Bruce Willis' action-hero cop John McClane in Die Hard 4.0 (known as Live Free Or Die Hard in the US), the much anticipated fourth instalment of the franchise. The line neatly encapsulates the strengths and weakness of the movie. An unabashed throwback to the explosive hyperbole of the 1980s and 1990s action movie - of which the Die Hard films were exemplars - the film offers plenty of opportunity for fans of the originals to revel in genre nostalgia.
Yet in an era characterised by the taut, muscular excitement of The Bourne Identity and Casino Royale, Die Hard 4.0's overblown pyrotechnics, excessive reliance on special effects and much too busy plot may strike contemporary audiences as evidence of the flab which the ageing Willis has gamely shed for the part.
Trading on older (predominantly male) viewers' adolescent memories of the franchise - and helped by an expertly assembled trailer - the film will open strongly. Its slyly patriotic message should play well with US audiences for its June 27 opening, in advance of the July 4 holiday when the film is set. Die Hard 4.0's calculated appeal to teenage and adult film-goers give it a clear run at the box-office elsewhere, where studio resources are largely focused on family-entertainment movies like Shrek The Third and Pirates Of The Caribbean: At World's End.
Die Hard 's more conventional action-thriller elements may see higher returns than Sylvester Stallone's Rocky Balboa (which took $150m-plus worldwide), a more soulful, reflective film. Expect a performance in the region of the last film in the franchise, Die Hard With A Vengeance (1995) which took $360m-plus more than a decade ago.
The film's avowed mainstream credentials will ensure a boost for Willis' box-office profile, which has been modest of late due to smaller scale projects like the gritty 16 Blocks (2006). DVD sales will capitalise on theatrical buzz, and do well with thirty-something fans of the franchise who missed the film on release, as well as offering another opportunity for box-set re-releases.
The film begins on a relatively subdued note, with computer programmers hacking into government systems as a prelude for an all-out assault on the world's IT networks by disaffected Pentagon boffin Thomas Gabriel (Olyphant). It sets the tone for some of the techno-babble and unwieldy dialogue about cyber crime that blights the film's later stretches. Much better is our introduction to John McClane, a weary, slightly cynical divorced NYPD senior detective who's reduced to snooping on his young daughter Lucy's (Winstead) first date.
Such wry awareness of McClane's - and Willis' - advancing years is soon dropped once the shooting begins. Assigned to drive young hacker Matt (Long), unknowingly implicated in Gabriel's scheme, to the Feds in Washington, McClane interrupts an assassination attempt by Gabriel's men on the young man and, after a ferocious and exciting gun battle, they make a hurried escape.
The action get bigger, and frankly more ludicrous from here on. Attempting to escape the gaze of Gabriel's surveillance - he has hacked into the nation's CCTV cameras and its mobile-phone networks - McClane is variously involved in dodging multiple car pile-up in a blacked-out underpass, dangling from the door of an SUV he's driven down an elevator shaft and temporarily disabling a helicopter with a conveniently-placed water hydrant. It's all reasonably entertaining stuff, mostly well staged by Len Wiseman.
But the first two Die Hard movies restricted their gleefully unruly set-pieces to a single location (a skyscraper and airport respectively), which gave the films a focus, even at their most ridiculous; here the plot requires McClane to travel across three states, which makes for a looser, less involving experience.
By the time the film has reached its climax, involving McClane attempting to rescue his daughter from Gabriel while dodging a collapsing motor-way flyover, you're past caring. Ropey computer-generated effects - a problem the first film didn't have to worry about - don't help, although the spectacle of Willis surfing the flight-tail of an F35 fighter jet as it crashlands does have a deliciously surreal flavour.
For all its concern with the latest gadgets, Die Hard 4.0 feels rooted in blockbuster mentality of the 1980s and 1990s. Not only does it insist on over-the-top spectacle, but Willis' also embodies a ruggedly uncomplicated brand of macho hero that feels increasingly redundant in age of more thoughtful genre franchises like Mission Impossible and Bourne (Willis' bumper-sticker brand of individualism finds expression in the film's US title Live Free Or Die Hard).
At its worst the film indulges in some faintly misogynist wisecracks revolving McClane's dispatching Gabriel's female accomplice that would sound crass even in a Chuck Norris movie.
Throughout Willis is good value as McClane, bringing a beefy physicality to the many action scenes, and there's a nice spark to his exchanges with Justin Long as the kid. But the script isn't as polished as it could be and when McClane finally utters his catchphrase '' yippee-ki-yay ' (the expletive usually associated with it is drowned out by gunfire) it comes as a relief, like the punchline to a joke that's gone on far too long.
The sleek production values are given some welcome grit by cinematographer Simon Duggan's grainy, grey-blue palette and restless camerawork.
20th Century-Fox Film Corporation
Ingenious Film Partners
20th Century Fox
20th Century Fox (most)
From a story by Martin Bomback and David Marconi and an article by John Carlin
Nicolas de Toth
Mary Elizabeth Winstead