July 07, 2007

Live Free or Die Hard: The LLama Review

So I trotted my hooves out last night to catch the 10:30 showing at the theater in town behind the K-Mart which has the huge screen and the nice seats. It's a great theater, built in the early-1980s when having a theater with four screens was practically a megalopolis. You can date the theater because the lobby has a huge mural over the snack bar with portraits of movie stars and scenes from movies: latest movies on the wall are Raiders of the Lost Ark and Private Benjamin.

Anyhoo, the theater probably has 600 seats in, and I had a nigh on private showing. Of course, three assholes, in an otherwise empty theater, sit right in front of me, but moved within a minute or two with an extreme case of the fidgets. Now, it's showing on two screens, and the other screen started 15 minutes earlier, but an empty theater in the second week of the movie would point to an expired shelf life.

And expired the movie was. Lord almighty was this a bad movie. Now, I don't regret having seen it---I was in an extremely cranky mood yesterday (Instalanche aside), and going and watching things get blown up was made to order for me. And, boy did things get blown up: I think the director has some sort of hate fetish for helicopters, because there were more helicopters blown up in pretty bizarre ways than I can remember ever before.

What made this movie suck was how completely stale the whole thing was: it was like eating a nice bluefish pate on a three week old cinnamon raisin bagel. The original Die Hard movie is quite rightfully considered to be a masterpiece by the way that it reinvented the action movie genre. To Bruce Willis we owe the de-steroidization of the movies---he's kind of the Ken Griffey Jr. to the Barry McBonds juiced up quasi-robots of the 80s action movies. But what made the original Die Hard movie work so well was Alan Rickman's role as Hans Gruber, the deliciously evil terrorist mastermind, who turns out not to be a terrorist but a master thief. Rickman is delicious to watch in that movie, burnished in time over his cross-portrayal of the sinister Severus Snape in the Harry Potter movie: I can almost imagine the scene of the lightning-struck tower at the end of the sixth movie, with Snape hissing to Malfoy, "Shoot the glass...SHOOT THE GLASS!"

Watching the original Die Hard movie again you also realize how old school it is by the fact that it takes place right before the high-tech revolution of the 1990s kicks in: you couldn't make that story work today, because of the ubiquitous presence of cell phones and internet computer networks remove the tension. What made the original movie work was the combination of three genres: the everyman wisecracking hero; the bad guys not being terrorists but thieves, playing then on all the conventions of a caper movie, but in an evil way; together with Nakatomi Tower as a haunted house.

The fourth movie in the trilogy doesn't work because the whole thing is not only stale, but it's been completely passed by events. Three problems emerged within the first five minutes. First, Bruce Willis's shaved head, costume, and demeanor came off as a bad impersonation of Michael Chicklis's now-classic Det. Vic Mackey from The Shield. We get reintroduced to Det. McClane as he's stalking his daughter on the Rutgers campus at 3 am, threatening to beat the crap out of her boyfriend. Oh. Kay. No back-story, nothing, he's just a little bat-shit psycho. The problem is, by evoking Vic Mackey (even unintentionally) you raise the whole question of whether McClane has gone bad. What's happened to him in the decade since we last saw him? While it's hard to imagine he's become corrupt, one can certainly imagine him having crossed so far past the line of brutality and violence that he's lost himself. But this is never addressed.

Second problem is posed by the tee-vee show 24. The plot, such as it is, and the villain, such as he is, are way too first eight hours of a 24 season-ish: in other words, this can't be the real plot, there's going to be something deeper here that is revealed because this thing is just the set up, right? And they play right into the 24 conventions by dangling McClanes daughter a la Kim Bauer, so much so that I wanted to yell out "Watch out for the cougar!" But alas, I didn't. Worse, still, was the absence of a Chloe character on the side of the Feds, who came across as a high school anarchist's cartoon vision of what incompetent (but very ethnically diverse) FBI agents would talk like.

The third problem was the character played by Mac guy. Yes, Mac guy---the annoying hipster doofus from the Mac commercials. On the plus side, you get to see the way Mac guy actually lives (dingy apartment filled with computer equipment and dungeons and dragons action figures, nice). And to get a whiff of his politics, lack of social skills, and bad personal hygiene. If they wanted to make this movie a classic, they should have gone out and gotten the guy who plays "PC" and make him one of the network hackers on the bad guy team. Now THAT would have been funny, and would have signaled that they were in on the existential joke that the movie was.

Other than that, the movie sucked. The plot was utterly incoherent---the "terrorists" knock down all communication networks except On-Star. Oh. Kay.

Definitely a movie to skip.

Posted by Steve-O at July 7, 2007 10:35 AM | TrackBack

I actually didn't think it was all that bad.

The bit with the CGI truck and plane at the end was way too far over the silly line, but I thought there was some good traditional action filmmaking technique in it. I was also impressed with some of the stuntwork.

Compare it to Die Hard, and yeah, it's nowhere near as good. What film is? Compare it to Die Hard II, and it's not bad. And compared to this season of 24, it's actually pretty good.

I think it's all about expectations.

Posted by: The Colossus at July 7, 2007 01:05 PM

You referred to Alan Rickman as delicious. Twice.

Now I need to go see stuff get blown up ...

Posted by: Professor Chaos at July 7, 2007 01:06 PM

Alan Rickman plays great bad guys. Even in the monumentally craptacular Kostner travesty, "Robin Hood: Prince ot Thieves" he was good.

I'm anticipating the new Clive Owen movie, "Shoot 'Em Up":


Posted by: Hucbald at July 8, 2007 01:00 AM

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Posted by: mthfc zwgyesnr at July 9, 2007 05:11 PM

And they didn't even let him complete the "Yippee Ki-Yay" line. That sucks.

Posted by: agent bedhead at July 9, 2007 06:46 PM

Steve-O, I'm supposed to be the cranky one.

Once you realize that Bruce Willis' age is the least of the many suspensions of reason required to find it credible, the movie becomes a real treat. A yummy treat - like Alan Rickman.

Posted by: Gordon at July 10, 2007 12:30 PM