Thursday, July 19, 2007

Never say Die, Bruce

Alright, let's get this out of the way right off the top. Yes, I know Bruce Willis is kind of a crazy fuck and all. But I can't help it. There's just something about him -- and he still has that something -- that's so charismatic and engaging and enjoyable to watch that I can't help but dig him. He's older and balder but that squinty glint of mischief in his eye is still clear and I can't resist.

And if you go to see Live Free or Die Hard this summer, I doubt you'll be able to resist him either. This is the summer of blockbuster sequels, with Spidey, Pirates, and Ocean's each entering their third (and presumably final) movies into their repertoire. They say three time's a charm, and those movies did do big business.

But Die Hard is a much older franchise, with the original flick being released 19 years ago. That original, to me, still stands as one of the finest action movies ever made. It was remarkably smart in addition to being clever and it spawned a large number of inferior rip-offs over the next several years. Bruce was making a name for himself on "Moonlighting," but Die Hard propelled him to box office gold and movie star status. His John McClane was both a reluctant hero and loveable, cocky smartass. He took movie quotes to new heights with the unforgettable "Yippee kai yay, motherfucker."

Also noteworthy, he made bleeding sexy.

Over the years, the second and third entries into the franchise really hadn't suffered the suck quotient that most sequels do. They weren't the same caliber of the first movie, but they ranged from decent to pretty good, which is saying a lot. And a lot of the credit goes to the character of John McClane as played by Bruce Willis. The stunts stayed real, the action was heart-palpitating, and McClane cracked jokes.

Now, nearly twenty years later, here comes the fourth film of this series during the summer of blockbuster sequel pageantry. It seemed everyone making the other movies decided they had to make things complex and convoluted to somehow justify their existence. The studios and directors understood that people like to see shit blow up onscreen, but they also seem compelled to make the shit blowing up be couched in faux-artsy-fartsy plots and gaudy sets.

Luckily, Bruce is back to show us that's just not the case.

In what may become the sleeper hit of the summer, he teams up with Justin Long to save us all from terrorists who're hacking all the systems that make our country tick. And believe me, they blow up a lot of shit while saving us all!

Best? Most of the blowing up of shit is real, man! You really can't top that. Don't get me wrong, I like CGI effects in some capacities and think it enhances a lot of movies. But, when shit is blowing up, I want to see the real thing. When pixels are crashing, burning, twisting, and suffering, there's really no excitement there.

And excitement is what Live Free or Die Hard is about. Director Len Wiseman and writers Mark Bomback and David Marconi seemed to get what others didn't. Bigger and badder can be good, but not when it's just bigger and badder confused plots and blurry action. There are a few twists in the flick, but if you've seen the other flicks, I really don't think you need to be as clever as John McClane to figure out what this movie is really all about. And that's the beauty of it. It keeps it simple and just keeps roaring forward.

Bruce and John McClane are older, and that's acknowledged. But here's where Bruce still has the drop on a few other stars who've recently tried to reprise old roles or still kick-ass in action movies. Bruce, he still can pull it off.

Times, they have certainly changed. Wanting the most bang for the production dollar, they kept this movie at the PG-13 rating. And I personally find it appalling that all the blood, violence and destruction isn't a problem for this rating, but the aforementioned "Yippee kai yay, motherfucker" money-quote has to be truncated to not include an audible version of the "fucker" portion of the phrase. But that's our society. Blowing shit up is okay for kids, but saying "fucker" is not. Fucking the ratings board.

But I certainly wouldn't let a quibble about our decency standards sour me on this entire movie. It's definitely not as smart, fresh, or clever as the original. Most of the jokes, in fact, are callbacks to the first. (The best is when a feeb named Agent Johnson comes to help out McClane.)

Timothy Olyphant as the designated bad guy works. It took me a really long time to place his face. For a while, I thought he looked Josh Duhamel, but knew he wasn't. I'm very familiar with Olyphant from Deadwood, but without his Seth Bullock 'stache and wild west greased back hair, his face just wasn't clicking. Ultimately, it was his cold demeanor and hard eyes that helped me connect the dots, and what worked so well for his role here.

Justin Long has taken heat over his "this movie is better than God" comments, because a lot of people like to get pissed off over ridiculous shit. But I thought he did well in his role as the young hacker thrown into this dangerous partnership with McClane. His humor has an innocent timbre that plays well against McClane's weathered, wiseass routine.

It may not have the beautiful jewel-box plot of the original, but this new flick does summer movie-going right. It starts with a bang, and races forward with plenty of thrills and chills as it blows shit up. It proves that even two decades later, Bruce, Die Hard, and the basic action genre, still have plenty of life.

Oh. Also noteworthy? Bruce is still sexy when he bleeds.

Yippee kai yay, motherfucker.


Ellen said...

Okay, Bruce Willis. I love him when he does character roles and isn't trying to be cute. To me, this is Bruce Willis at his best. (Did you happen to see his guest appearance on Mad About You? He played a lunatic who asked Paul Reiser if he wanted to make out. It was a SCREAM.) But when he's doing the leading man thing, he's so self-conscious with the lip-biting and trying to be adorable that he loses me. I wish he would just cut that crap out.


Don Capone said...

I just think it's funny that Bruce Willis an Ashton Kutcher are in back to back posts on your blog.

SusanD said...

Ellen -- oh my god! The lip-biting! YES! And he does this thing where he purses them and squints when he's trying to smolder, and I HATE that look. I never saw that Mad About You, but that is the sort of thing he's best at -- being crazy.

Don-- ha ha! I hadn't even noticed that. But now that you do mention it, I see I gave Bruce the bigger picture.

Also, OT, but I've been thinking about casting your SUNSET movie, and I suggest Jane Lynch (Talladega Nights, 40 YO Virgin) for the role of Eleanor.

Don Capone said...

Yeah, Lynch is funny. She was good in 40 yr old Virgin, and has an hystrerical recurring role on Two and a Half Man. I don't know if she's sexy enough, though. I'm sticking with Diane Keaton for now...

Alice said...

Susan, I'm so happy you reviewed Live Free or Die Hard! I love that franchise (well, #3 is semi-forgettable) and like you, I think the original is one of the best ever. Love Bruce - can't believe he's such a Republican. Timothy Olyphant keeps turning up tour de force moments. Remember him in Scream 2? And a delightful film around 99 or 2000 - The Broken Hearts Club. If you've never seen that, do so.

Maryanne Stahl said...


OK I probably won't ever see this movie, but I used to love Bruce when he was on Moonlighting. Anyone who can create sexual tension with Cybill has some hot shit going on.

besides, he sort of looks like my brother Billy, who is also very sexy and bald.


SusanD said...

Hi Alice! i DO remember TO in Scream 2! I haven't seen Broken Hearts, so I'll check it out, thanks!

Maryanne-- hello!