(In theaters, June 2007) The good news are that the fourth instalment of the Die Hard series is a very enjoyable return to the roots of the good old action film: explosions, dastardly villains, a wisecracking hero, spectacular action set-pieces and things we haven’t yet seen. The not-so-good news are that it falls short of being a good Die Hard film. Over the long run, I suspect that it won’t matter: the two previous Die Hard sequels initially disappointed moviegoers who then grew fonder of them as time went by. At the very least, an older “John McClane” is back, fighting terrorists who are really robbers and trying his damnedest to save family members from consequent harm. The story is a pack of silliness (Hackers! National infrastructure! Turning all traffic lights to green!) with more logical howlers than you can imagine (including a convenient absence of traffic when needed), but at least it gives Bruce Willis something to do and plenty of opportunities to look good with an increasing number of cuts and bruises. Though the villains are a bit wasted (Timothy Olyphant’s villain never projects too much menace, while Maggie Q is wasted as a sidekick who can’t help but go “yah!” as she’s kung-fu fighting) and the direction is too scattered to be truly inspiring, there are a number of really good action sequences here and there. There’s a bit of parkour, a wall-smashing gunfight, at least one flying car, some hot jet-on-truck action and a crumbling symbol of American power. Good stuff, though I’d like a cleaner look for the action than the fashionable CGI-boosted shakycam stuff. More globally, it’s fascinating to see a mainstream American action thriller take on a plot-line that would have been pure science fiction (in concept and execution) barely twenty years ago: our heroes use cell phones, shrug over memories of 9/11, do some social engineering via OnStar and stare intently at webcams even as McClane is derided as “a Timex in a digital world”. It’s too bad that this is a different McClane than the one who starred in the first Die Hard, but I won’t complain: Fast-paced action movies are rare enough that I’ll take what I can get.
(Second viewing, On DVD, February 2008) I’m shocked: This film actually works better the second time around. Free from the initial impact of silly plotting and logical howlers, this fourth Die Hard installment surprises by how well it understands the mechanics of the character, while the direction is a cut above the jerky style commonly used nowadays. The pacing is steady and the climax delivers on its promise. The bare-bones DVD version still includes a fairly entertaining commentary with Bruce Willis and director Len Wiseman (who redeems himself after the two Underworld movies): it explains a fair bit about the conception and the making of a project that was a long time in the making. I didn’t actually expect this film to hold up to a second viewing, but it does do quite well.