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Die Hard 4.0 – triumph of the Willis

indestructible McClane

indestructible McClane

Die Hard 4.0 – Len Wiseman

Downtown LA. Four American super-heroes meet for a drink. We will pass over Superman’s coke with a shudder. Even the non-diet doesn’t help. Phillip Marlowe’s bourbon, no ice, restores our faith in the misplaced connection between masculinity and booze. Harry Callaghan has something anonymous; guns not alcohol are his macho signature. And John McClane asks for anything that will kick the gut and still the brain. Nothing prissy, no Bond weak Martinis, you gotta be a Brit to pull that one off. Tequila’s too fussy. So my bet is John would split the Wild Turkey with Marlowe, hoping that mainland United States will survive while he and Marlowe drink of oblivion long enough to put up with Superman’s f***ing idealism and Callaghan’s f***ing cynicism.

In the over-kill (collective noun) of action movies chugging like demonic sausages out of the Hollywood machine, the only thing that makes one or two stand out is that there is someone we can root for. Not for his idealism, his likeability, or his Craigian pecs. No we just somehow, against all common sense, against all reason, want Bruce Willis’s John McClane to make it. Why we do is lost in the mystery of male psychology. He’s a rebel. The words ‘screw the system’ are for ever on his lips. If John McClane were given Superman’s ability to fly we just know he’d say – “f**k it – I’ll walk”. It is the reluctance of McClane’s impossibly heroic acts that seduces us into rooting for him and generates even a kind of surreal respect. This isn’t to do with outcomes, that’s a given, as McClane in all of the films in the Die Hard franchise, is all that stands between us and oblivion, Armageddon or the super-crime of all time. McClane’s philosophy is visceral – “screw the ideology – it’s all about the money.” That’s a diverting sub-text about American cultural values I won’t pursue

Die Hard 4.0 (.01 – it’s about computers – geddit?) is a rollercoaster movie – in the best sense. You end up where you started, it’s absolutely pointless, and you know exactly where you are going at all times. You sit back, no forward, on the edge of your seat and just let the adrenaline pump into you. You know that you, he, are going to make it but the sheer energy and kinetic editing skill (Nicholas de Toth – Terminator 3 – on top form) simply bypasses reason to make you lose yourself in the ride. I am ashamed to say I loved every testosterone soaked minute of it. Park your brain and enjoy the thrills.

Now reluctantly divorced, McClane is vigilante-ing his chip-off-the-block daughter Lucy’s (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) sex life when he is asked to bring in ace computer hacker, Matt Farrell (Justin Long – Keanu Reeves with more than binary facial expressions). Easy-peasy. Except for McClane. Farrell is being hunted for elimination as he is the last surviving hacker of several who have been unwittingly helping ex-NSC super-nerd computer genius Thomas Gabriel (Timothy Olyphant) to engineer a national computer systems crash – a ‘fire-sale’ – ‘everything must go’. Transport, energy, national security and of course the Wall Street money factory. The trouble with plots like this is that after years of thinking no President, no Administration could be so stupid…..we now count nothing out. Dumb is the new norm. A thought in the hand is worth two in the Bush. Nothing is too stupid or too ludicrous to believe. Hollywood should pay the GW Adminstration a percentage.

With only-too-believable stupidity the NSC commissioned Gabriel to build a national computer melt-down back-up site. Threaten the main system and all the data that runs a modern state, especially the economy, (Mclane, as usual is right), downloads to Gabriel’s back-up system. So he creates that threat – and bingo. Len Wiseman’s Direction does tight, and effective justice to Mark Bomback’s lean, sharply focused screenplay. But words are just the ticket to get aboard. Once on, the ride is all. The challenge for Superman movie Directors is how to make things look hard. Wiseman just makes everything look easy. He throws all caution to the winds knowing that having got us onto a fast moving train we aren’t going to get off till he brings us home. Ludicrously impossible sequences therefore numb the reason and excite the gut. Go John!

The interplay between Willis and Long works well, recalling the fact that Willis’s career genesis was the ironic, self-mocking style of the Moonlighting TV series. And the real villain here is cleverly chosen – not the nerdy creepiness of Gabriel but the system. The vast infrastructure of computer-based information and functions without which a modern citizen can’t get paid, laid, fed, led, carried or harried, wed or dead. All our pent up frustration at call centres, voice mail, internet spam, and customer non-service departments, makes us cheer when McClane just scythes through all this electronically anal crap, if you’ll forgive the imagery, and cuts to the chase – a greedy guy going for the loot. ‘Adopting’ hacker Farrell into the cause is a great plot lubricant, slides us quickly past the boring computer-nerd fiddling to the kill-your-girlfriend, save-my-daughter stuff that adds a semblance of reality to the absurdity of the events. (Nice Nokia-saves-the-world product placement though). The Die Hard franchise runs on high-octane revenge fuel.

I have no idea how this all plays with women. It is of course de rigeur that all the women are feisty and ballsy (?).Yet Mai Luhn (Maggie Q) still simpers after Gabriel and in a vertiginous lift shaft sequence adds serious meaning to the notion of falling for her man. Miss Otis regrets – she’s fallen too hard.

My heroes in the bar? Superman went home early to get some super-sleep believing that the system works and just a few criminals screw it up. Callaghan’s under arrest for blowing away the bartender for reaching down for a new bowl of bar peanuts. McClane and Marlowe are on their second bottle of Wild Turkey when the bar empties before the tooled-up hoods at the door. They look at each other, drain their glasses, shrug, and say “looks like we’re the only one’s left. Let’s kick some ass.”

Die Hard 4.0? Just for once Hollywood doing what it does best – exceptionally well.

(July 2007)

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