Live Free or Die Hard
Several years ago I went on a strange date with a strange girl. We met at the Fresco Tortillas on Fulton Street and exchanged numbers. That was in August of 2001. The girl didn’t call and I forgot about her. Six months later I received a voice mail from a person speaking in a slurred British accent. It took me a while to figure out it was the Fresco Tortillas girl, who, last I knew, was American. I called her back. It turned out she’d gone to live in England for a while and adopted the accent.
We met at a bar and she chain smoked and told me she wanted to be an actress. Her new accent came and went as she spoke. She told me her brother was an actor who’d been in big things, including one of the Mummy movies. She told me his name—Yancey Arias—and I always remembered it. It was one of the names that I saw flash far down the list in the opening credits of Live Free or Die Hard.
Arias plays Agent Johnson. He shows up about thirty minutes in. The nation’s computer systems are under siege and there’s panic and chaos in the streets. Bruce Willis is dragging around a greasy hacker kid who might know why. Willis and the kid get in a police vehicle with Agent Johnson at the wheel. Willis grills the kid, who starts babbling his nervous tech-geek nonsense (a routine repeated many times throughout the film). Agent Johnson glances skeptically into the rearview. A moment later a helicopter full of bad guys fire twenty thousand rounds at the car. Only Agent Johnson is killed. Arias slumps convincingly as Willis and the kid flee.
I’m an unabashed fan of big-budget summer action films. At the same time I agree with everyone who says they’re horrible. They mostly are horrible, especially when viewed years later on TV. But Die Hard was one of the good ones, I thought. Willis, against the odds, made a great action star. He defied further odds later by turning in some interesting performances. It will surprise no one to learn that his fourth run as John McClane doesn’t rank as one of those.
McClane’s a world-weary battler this time. He’s divorced, doesn’t understand his daughter, muses darkly on the thankless nature of heroism during one of the movie’s few quiet moments. His lack of tech savvy is played for laughs not only by the hacker kid and the always-irritating Kevin Smith, but the evil genius bad guy too, who calls him “a Timex watch in a digital age,” or something like that. The same could be said of the film itself, coming as it does twelve years after the last installment, but the filmmakers do their best to stay current, tossing out references to anthrax and 9/11.
Remember 9/11? I do. I remember a lot of pious, well-meaning talk of a new era of enlightened national discourse and the end of irony and violence in movies. What a notion! Did we ever believe it? I wish I could go back in time to 9/12 and go on TV with Peter Jennings and say, “In six short years, Peter, these horrors will merely be dim back story in the next Die Hard film. Now, what was that you were saying about America being changed forever?”
Live Free or Die Hard has some cool action sequences, including a surprising—and inexplicably refreshing—scene in which McClane and the bad guy’s foxy Asian girlfriend beat the shit out of each other with bare fists while the hacker quivers over a rubber keyboard. He’s always trembling and stuttering and making unfunny wisecracks. I disliked him immediately and that never changed.
The movie held my interest but it drags toward the end, just when it should be revving up. There’s a long sequence involving a semi and a fighter plane that was probably too expensive to cut. By the time McClane delivers his signature line I’d already checked out. I was thinking how chincy it was going to look later on TV.