It’s been almost 20 years since “Die Hard”, a film that reinvented action movies to be more character driven, less serious, more flawed. I mean, John McClane makes mistakes, something you never saw in an Arnie or Stallone action film in the 80’s. The villain had a sense of humor, a REAL one. It’s the first action film I remember thinking “How in the world can he get out of this one?” I mean, he spends the entire movie fighting terrorists in his bare feet.

Now, I know some of you will say that since “Lethal Weapon” came first it was really the pioneer. I can’t say as I disagree with your point of view. However, I think of “Lethal” as more of a cop buddy film, less about the action.

Back to “Die Hard”

I’ve loved both sequels to varying degrees and for different reasons. Die Hard 2 was more of a pure action piece where as Die Hard 3 was more about Willis and Sam Jackson. By then, the action formula pioneered by the first film had been done to death; and while DH3 was very entertaining, it was starting to show its age as a franchise.

Earlier this year, Stallone captured the hearts of many a critic with “Rocky Balboa”. It was a sequel (#6 actually) that went back to its roots in its simplicity. It focused on the characters and less on boxing. If you haven’t seen it, I heartily recommend it.

With that in mind, it seems as though Bruce Willis and Director Len Wiseman are trying to go back to basics with “Live Free”.

Bruce is back as Detective John McClane, still a NY police officer, and struggling with a life of alienation. His career of saving the world time after time has taken its toll on his personal life. Divorced, alienated from the rest of the cops, his friends, and his family. McClane is basically alone. He’s taken to stalking his daughter to find out what she’s doing because she won’t answer his calls. She’s dropped his last name in a final act of defiance and desertion.

Anyway, McClane is charged with bringing a computer hacker named Ferrell (played well by Justin Long) to Washington to answer questions regarding his role in a massive cyber attack on the United States. The attack is known as a “fire sale”, basically a wiping out of computerized transportation, economic, and safety controls all across the country.

You get the idea. McClane gets kid, terrorists want kid dead, McClane takes them all on.

So how does it play?

The Bad:
1. A PG-13 rating kills the tension in this movie. It just never seems to excite more than the occasional explosion or chase scene. The studio apparently wanted to reach a larger audience with the more gentile rating. It saw the competition it would be up against and decided to clean it up to try to rake in the bucks. It doesn’t work here. “Die Hard” movies always had a gritty feel to me. That was part of its appeal. Even Willis’ trademark line is mostly sacrificed to make a more pristine film. Why the PG-13? Everyone who has seen the Die Hard franchise is either over 21, or WAY over 21. It doesn’t work for the character of McClane, doesn’t work for the film.

2. The villain. Timothy Oliphant plays Gabriel. I won’t say much more about him so as not to give the plot away, but he was really flat as a character. There was just nothing about him that struck fear, awe, or even a crooked smile. He has a very boyish look, seeming more like a guy trying to steal his dad’s car keys than shut down the country.

The Good
1. Bruce Willis does his level best to give us a great performance as a PG-13 McClane. You can almost see him struggling internally as he says lines like “Jackass!”, “Jerkoff”, and lots of “freaking”‘s. Still, you like McClane because Willis is so darn likable.

2. Justin Long does a good job as the sidekick in this film. He has some nice comedic timing, and can pull off the dramatic moments fairly well.

3. Maggie Q plays Mya, Gabriel’s chief henchwoman. The action scenes with her and Willis are pretty “freaking” good.

4. The plot. This one is actually a “Good” and “not so good”. First off, the PG-13 again just kills the story. While a sense of urgency is there, it never seems serious enough to drive the story. What would shutting down the traffic systems and power really look like? It’d be more than just one big traffic jam. Still, the message behind the plot is well-founded. It’s actually a statement on our post 9/11 world. With the magnificently integrated technology web of services we’ve created for ourselves, we could actually be in very serious trouble if one of the playing cards was removed from the metaphorical house we’ve constructed.

5. McClane’s explanation of why he does what he does. I won’t say anything else, other than to say it’s a good speech about what heroes REALLY are.

Overall, I’d give this movie a solid 6, maybe a weak 7. It doesn’t ring true to me as a Die Hard movie, more like a supplement to the series, maybe an appendix.