Review: Die Hard 4.0

Posted on July 26, 2007


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An aging Bruce Willis takes on a nasty bunch of computer programmers in a solid action entertainer.

JULY 29, 2007 – SOMEWHERE ALONG Die Hard 4.0 – no prizes for guessing, after a look at that title, that the plot has to do with computers – Bruce Willis gets labelled “a Timex watch in a digital age,â€? and you can’t help nodding in complete agreement. Had this been the 1940s, I think it’d be safe to say that Willis – at least based on the evidence of his Die Hard films, where he plays detective John McClane – would have been as big a star. With that shining eggshell of a dome that all but begs to be encased in a fedora, with that leathery forehead creasing into a hundred little folds upon the merest flicker of a world-weary eyebrow, with that cynical smirk resembling the efforts of a caricaturist who drew a dash for a mouth and forgot to fill in the lips, with that partiality for the throwaway hardboiled zinger (“Because there’s nobody else to do it,â€? is how he tosses off his decision to take on the bad guys single-handed), with that tough exterior fooling no one that it contains the softest of hearts, Willis is an utterly anachronistic throwback to the long-gone noir hero. (Conversely, imagine Humphrey Bogart as an action star today and you might end up with Bruce Willis.)

And that’s why Willis slips so easily into the comfortably old-fashioned Die Hard films, where the leading man is the kind of maverick realist who, after killing off a bad guy, doesn’t punch his fist in the air so much as look around with worry that more may be on their way. He’s the last-standing human hero in an increasingly inhuman world – and that includes the world of modern-day action movies, where hardware has all but supplanted humanity – and watching Willis do his thing is the chief pleasure of Die Hard 4.0, a serviceable-enough popcorn movie whose over-the-top stunts help camouflage the otherwise generic nature of its muscle-flexing.

The great appeal of the first two entries in the series – apart from the fact that were made, respectively, by John McTiernan and Renny Harlin, both terrific (if maddeningly inconsistent) action-film directors – was that McClane was the kind of hero that you or I could become in a crunch. (Admittedly, that’s a mighty stretch of a ‘could’.) His family kept getting into trouble during major holidays (a trend that continues here, with the events occurring over the Independence Day weekend), and if he was pressed into service above and beyond the call of duty, it was simply to save those he loved. And so we watched McClane take on terrorists in a skyscraper in the first movie (with the superb Alan Rickman setting the template for the much-parodied, purring-menace Euro-villain) and terrorists in an airport in the second.

But the claustrophobia of these settings was diluted in the third installment, which had McClane scampering across all of Manhattan, and Die Hard 4.0 expands McClane’s area-of-action to cover a goodish portion of the East Coast. And that’s perhaps inevitable because McClane has graduated – in what could possibly be a parallel to the transition from the Reagan years to the Bush years – from saving his family to saving America. (I guess it’s only a matter of time before Die Hard 5: Bruce Willis Saves the Planet.) Thomas Gabriel (Timothy Olyphant), a madman computer-whiz, makes it his mission to cripple the country’s economy by crippling its computer networks – or something like that; this kind of plot is best experienced by not dwelling on it – and he almost pulls it off, until McClane and the much-younger Matt Farrell (a perfect Justin Long, playing a hacker, and looking uncannily like Keanu Reeves, circa Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure) rain on his Fourth of July parade.

There’s a bit of a beating heart in the midst of all these bits and bytes, courtesy McClane’s daughter who ends up in peril, but this development comes off as a half-hearted, late-in-the-day nod to the family-member-in-danger arc of the earlier films. (She calls her father an unprintable swearword that refers to a body part that doesn’t get much sunlight, and right there you know she’s going to have to eat her words.) In general – and perhaps in deference to its aging star – Die Hard 4.0 isn’t very charitable to the young. Farrell is ostensibly on board because he, unlike McClane, knows computers – he’s the brain to McClane’s brawn – but having established that, the film also tells us that he has low blood sugar, that he has a fear of flying, that he has no respect for his country. I guess we should be thankful that a pan across his apartment doesn’t reveal a dollhouse laid out with miniature china tea sets.

Kevin Smith, in a bit of inspired casting, comes off worse, as an overweight geek who lives in the basement of his mother’s house. (But he does trigger off a great moment when Willis acknowledges a Boba Fett cutout in his den. “Big fan of the Fett?â€? Smith asks, only to have Willis deadpan, “No, I’m more of a Star Wars guy.â€?) So it’s up to the seniors to take charge. Rather, it’s up to one specific senior to take charge; the rest of them simply stand there in control rooms, shaking their heads at giant overhead screens displaying what are clearly terrifying data readouts. (Besides, what kind of action movie would it be if it were mainly about the nerds? Ooh, the good guy types frantically on his keyboard. Ooh, and at the other end, the bad guy types even more frantically on his keyboard.)

And with Willis in charge, Die Hard 4.0 ultimately boils down to explosive set pieces, which teeter comfortably between being preposterous and pulse-pounding. This is the kind of movie where you don’t want to ask how an automobile managed to get stuck in an elevator shaft, or how anyone can survive with life and limb pretty much intact after driving a careening monster truck on an exploding freeway, after being shot at by a fighter jet at close-to-point-blank range, after jumping onto the rudderless aircraft’s wing after the pilot has auto-ejected, after leaping off the jet and onto the remainder of the crumbling concrete of the freeway, and after the aircraft explodes in a fireball some mere metres away.

These sequences are simply the adrenalised equivalents of an earlier occurrence where the fiftysomething McClane is shown to be far hipper than the twentysomething Farrell because he is a fan of classic rock. (Have you noticed how, in the movies, a song that we’re meant to pick up on always plays from the very beginning, even when someone turns on the radio simply on a whim? Willis, here, is in a car and he fiddles around with the car-radio dial and settles on the station just as the guitar licks are kicking off a number, so we – the audience – don’t have to work too hard to realise that it’s CCR’s Fortunate Son that’s on.) Action films typically don’t have much of a point – other than, well, the action – but if there’s anything you take away from Die Hard 4.0, it’s that the older things are, the cooler they get.

Copyright ©2007 The New Indian Express

Posted in: Cinema: English