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Die Hardest

Willis rings in Independence Day with a bang. (Frank Masi)

{mosimage} Fully intact, Bruce Willis can be a fine actor; bloodied, bruised and battered � whether by age, disappointment or armor-piercing bullets � he�s close to sublime. In his best roles, of which New York City detective John McClane in the Die Hard series is one, he�s a Sisyphean figure wondering how the hell he got to here and wishing he was home with a beer in his hand. Nineteen years after doing Christmas Eve battle with money-grubbing German terrorists in a Los Angeles office tower, McClane is so far past his sell-by date that his existential exhaustion becomes more than a mere character trait; it�s his entire raison d�etre. Set over the July Fourth weekend, the proudly post-9/11 Live Free or Die Hard is festooned with references to anthrax alarms, FAA critical alerts and digital fingerprinting. �(The screenplay, by Mark Bomback, is based on John Carlin�s Wired article about U.S. government preparations for �the cyber equivalent of Pearl Harbor.�) But what it all boils down to is this: When the shit hits the fan � in the form of a disgruntled ex-DOD computer whiz (Timothy Olyphant) who causes all of the country�s computer networks to crash simultaneously � it falls to McClane to once again charge forth and kick some good, old-fashioned analog ass. The joke is that while everyone from the FBI to the NSA is rendered helpless by malfunctioning cell phones, laptops, GPS devices, et al., McClane is just starting to juice up, like one of those emergency flashlights that turn on when the power goes out. Where the first Die Hard movie was a refreshingly low-key action spectacle with an unusually vulnerable everyman hero, Live Free or Die Hard is a full-tilt apocalyptic disaster comedy in which the seemingly indestructible McClane turns his patrol car into a spinning airborne projectile, socks it out with a svelte Eurasian villainess (Maggie Q) in an SUV that happens to be dangling inside an elevator shaft, and, for an encore, faces off against an F-35 fighter jet while negotiating collapsing sections of freeway in a ripped-to-shreds big rig. In a series known for its grandiloquent villains, Olyphant seems like he should be playing second fiddle to an actor of steelier, more Shakespearean presence, but director Len Wiseman (who cut his teeth on the two Underworld movies) keeps things airy and light and rollicking along in solid, Saturday-morning-serial fashion. And Willis, who turned 52 this year, plays things to the hilt. Provided you don�t think too long or hard about it (and why ever would you?), Live Free or Die Hard is infectious good fun, and a tremendous encouragement to the middle aged. (Citywide)

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