Friday, November 30, 2007

The Friday Challenge

First off, the movie review I didn't have time to run yesterday.

Recommended Renting: Live Free or Die Hard

I've always had an affinity for Bruce Willis, going all the way back to Moonlighting. It's the name, of course, as well as the fact that we're very close to the same age, although my wife assures me that I look much better for our age than he does. More than that, though, I tend to like the kinds of characters Willis tends to play: gruff, reflexively wise-cracking even when it's stupid, not always the sharpest knife in the drawer, but with his heart (usually) in the right place. Korben Dallas remains one of my favorite characters in contemporary film SF, and unlike the recent products of LucasFilms, I have yet to get tired of watching The Fifth Element.

But after a movie and TV career as long as my writing career, the character Willis was born to play remains John McClane: cop, failed husband, awkward father, and reluctant but remarkably indestructible hero of the Die Hard series. And while the DH scripts keep making reference to Willis as a sort of modern-day Roy Rogers, the guy I kept thinking of as I watched this one was John Wayne — specifically, the late-period John Wayne of Big Jake.

That's the way to view Live Free or Die Hard: as a movie in which the tubby old guy comes out of retirement to prove he can still get on the horse and kick booty old-school style one more time.

This time around, McClane is a late middle-aged man, at the tail end of his police career. He and Holly Gennero are finally divorced (after being "estranged" since 1988!), he's still just a plainclothes detective working the graveyard shift, and he'd probably be thinking about retirement, except that he has a daughter still in college. (Conveniently, Rutgers.) Relations with the daughter are rocky at best; she goes by mom's maiden name and refuses all contact with dear old dad.

Considering its formulaic elements, then, the plot is pretty darned good. A nicely multiethnic group of cyberterrorists, led by ├╝berwasp Timothy Oliphant, launch a coordinated cyber attack on America on the Fourth of July, with the declared intent of bringing the entire system down. Before things completely hit the fan, though, McClane gets assigned to find master hacker Matthew Farrell (best known from his TV role as, "I'm a Mac,") and escort him to FBI headquarters in D.C. for questioning. (Wow, the mileage and overtime this McClane guy must rack up! I'd hate to see his expense reports...)

After that, the movie turns into The Gauntlet for a while, with McClane doing his best to keep Farrell alive and on the move while world+dog is trying to kill him. Of course, once they get to D.C., Farrell instantly sees what the entire FBI and NSA have failed to notice, and just as instantly decides to switch sides and become a white hat. Of course, the business about bringing the whole system down for political reasons is just a smokescreen to hide the real crime, and there are dirty government secrets galore to be revealed. Of course, the bad guys, once they realize they're up against McClane, find his daughter and take her hostage, and of course, by the end of the movie, she's turns out to be a chip off the old blockhead, and Farrell and Lucy Gennero-No,-I'm-McClane become a romantic item.

The movie has some glaring flaws. For example, if it's the Fourth of July, then how come Wall Street is open for business and there's a panic on the NYSE trading floor when the stock market crashes? Likewise, the scenes shot inside the "super-secret NSA computer facilities" had those of us who've actually been inside "undisclosed locations" rolling on the floor. (At work, we've been laughing about this one all week.) And while the F-35 does have VTOL capabilities, just like the Harrier in True Lies, it cannot engage in combat while bobbing and weaving through urban architecture like a helicopter gunship. Most importantly, the presence of Justin Long as Matthew Farrell is, as likable as he is, distracting: you keep waiting for him to say, "You know, you wouldn't be having all these problems if you'd just used a Mac." (And don't even get me started on the business of his hacking the entire NSA network with a combination cellphone/PDA...)

Still, Live Free or Die Hard is an exciting, well-paced, and fun ride, and it doesn't insult your intelligence nearly halfways as badly as most movies involving hackers do. If you're looking for a fun action rental that eschews CGI and uses real stunts, effects, and pyrotechnics — lots of pyrotechnics — this one is highly recommended.

[Helpful Hint: I had a hard time finding this movie in my local Blockbuster, until I realized that they'd filed it under "L" for Live Free, not "D" for Die Hard. U.K. and Australian customers should have an easier time of it as in those countries it was released as "Die Hard 4.0."]

And now, The Friday Challenge

Isn't it obvious? By the end of this movie McClane's daughter has proven to be just like Dad, except much cuter and with breasts, and Farrell is hopelessly smitten with her and has turned away from the Dark Side to become a good guy. Further, Kevin Smith does a terrific turn as super-├╝bernerd "Warlock." (A nod to Vernor Vinge's True Names, perhaps? By the way, thanks to Colin Lee for pointing this out. I didn't recognize Silent Bob without both his trenchcoat and Jay.)

So here's this week's challenge: give me a brief synopsis for Die Hard: The NeXT Generation. (In Australia and the U.K., Die Hard 5.1a.)

As always, we're playing for your choice of either a signed copy of Rebel Moon or what's behind Door #2, with winners to be announced next Friday. Ready? Go!