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John McClane

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Against my best judgment, saw Live Free or Die Hard last week. It’s…. action packed.

I’m a big fan of the first and third films in the Die Hard series, especially the first. Willis’ McClane is an accidental action hero, which is a bit different than the reluctant action hero that dominates most other films; McClane ends up at One Nakatomi Plaza for random reasons, and ends up saving the day through luck and accident as much as skill. In the third film McClane is similarly thrown into a situation not of his own choosing, and Willis does a fine job of depicting, for the first half of the movie, a guy who would love nothing more than to simply go home and sleep off his hangover. Moroever, the first movie has, as Eric Lichtenfeld has ably noted, the single greatest one-liner in the history of action cinema. Finally, both the first and the third films have appropriately classy, sinister Euro-trash villains, and some genuinely surprising plot twists.

Live Free or Die Hard really isn’t a sequel to those movies. Rather, it’s a movie in which Bruce Willis plays a character named John McClane, a character loosely based on a character also named John McClane that Bruce Willis has played in previous films. This is quite fitting, because Live Free or Die Hard is, unashamedly, a Frankenstein’s monster of action films. The villain is lifted from a combination of Swordfish and Charlie’s Angels. The F-35 sequence is borrowed directly from True Lies. The “damsel in distress” is lifted from the first Die Hard, as well as any number of other action films from Commando on down. The annoying sidekick is so familiar that I began to wonder how Vincent Chase would have done in the role, and then started to think about where I could find a place in the movie for Johnny Drama (maybe replacing Kevin Smith?) Oh yeah, Kevin Smith is in the movie, for some reason. The villainess is borrowed from the second X-Men movie. The plot has something to do with the internet (“Hey, let’s make an action movie!” “What about?” “I don’t know; the internet? Lots of people talking about the internet these days.”) and proceeds in an utterly predictable manner. Willis and the script writers have abandoned any effort to make McClane human, and we actually get a “man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do” type speech.

Here’s the kicker, though; they actually manage to pull it off, or better than could be reasonably expected, anyway. The derivativeness doesn’t matter, because the film works on two levels. First, the action sequences are genuinely impressive. Utterly unbelievable, but genuinely impressive. The unbelievability is a feature, though, not a bug, because the film works best as parody. Parody demands liberal borrowing from other films, and LFODH works well as a respectful parody of the action-hero genre.

Anyway, while I can’t bring myself to actually recommend it to anyone (especially given how much I liked the previous films), it was certainly better than I expected.

Happy Fourth of July!

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