No one really dies in Die Hard 4.0. They’re either blasted off the screen-edge or lobbed through a window or ketchupped, Itchy & Scratchy-style, in the blades of some spinning metal wheels. Bad guy macros neatly deleted from the screenwriting software. And no one says any naughty words, either. Not even Willis, whose trademark McClane kiss-off is gutlessly cut short by a gunshot (“Yippee ki-yay, motherf-”). It’s a mush; a mash-up. A jagged chunk of adult action formula with the sharp edges planed off, then malletted into a non-threatening, teen-friendly world of naughty nocturnal hackers swaying to Evanescence. It’s produced and moderated to set pulses fluttering, but never pounding. You’ll smirk! You’ll frown! You’ll quietly guffaw! But you’ll never feel the urge to cheer or even wince.
Despite the (mystifying) 15 cert, Die Hard 4.0 is everything we all feared on hearing the PG rumours. Y’know, for kids… Director Len Wiseman (the Underworld flicks) has tried to grow it up by spraying everything with a blue-grey gun-metal sheen, but it doesn’t stick. If the film were, as Willis told Total Film a few issues back, a “ride”, it would be one of those cheery, sick-smelling toddler trundlecoasters. Steady, harmless. All function, no fire. The story (hackers cripple American infrastructure) slaves much of the action to sterile, screen-reflected interiors. Over two hours, all those clickety-clack keyboard tap-taps and inserts of unrealistically nippy progress bars are an agonising attention-stretch. Wiseman, disastrously, tries to use the computer theme as a shortcut for coherent storytelling. ‘UPLOADING VIRUS!’ warns the flashing monitor. ‘TRAFFIC DIVERTED!’… ‘POWER GENERATORS SHUT DOWN!’… There might as well be one that says, ‘PLOT ADVANCED!’ or ‘ONLY ONE HOUR AND 10 MINUTES TO GO!’
Of course, Willis’ role reprise is the story and his rugged sparkle just about steadies Wiseman’s lurching ship. Fittingly, he plays it tired and creaky, but there’s nothing new here. Location captions… overhead city sweeps… disposable Euro-baddies… Even the wiseass quips seem stale; Willis boiling down the flawed but sympathetic McClane to a tricksy playlist of buzz-phrases. Self-conscious cool: something he recently insisted is uncool. McClane’s charm is that he’s the blue-collar guy flicked onto red alert; a regular Joe in irregular circumstances. Here, he’s more standard-issue athletic action hero – a gruff cop with a plucky sidekick ( Justin Long). There’s no tension; no sense of him being locked down but loaded. He’s a glorified field op – a baldy Jack Bauer.
Long is likeable; Maggie Q is sleek and sexy as a kung fu-kicking black-leather widow; Kevin Smith is good fun and Timothy Olyphant takes a decent shot at his not-very-scary role of, umm, estranged nerd. He plays it aloof and tech-savvy: a bluetooth Bond villain. But in a nice smart shirt and with a layer of murky political justification carefully grafted on, so his evil-doings don’t seem quite so irredeemable.
We counted three genuinely good set-pieces: a comedy-brutal shoot-out in a cramped apartment; an ace bit with a car in an elevator and a thing with a fighter jet and a juggernaut that would be in with a shout for ludicrous action scene of the year if it wasn’t for those pesky giant robots. But, freedom-hating French bad guys; an Iraq-nudging speech about the real heroes being the guys who do the noble, dirty jobs; Olyphant’s insistence that at least he’s not a “religious nut Hell-bent on apocalypse”… It all seems geared towards the 4th July release (US title – Live Free Or Die Hard)…
“They’ve shut down the whole system!” laments one of the Feds. “It’s not a system”, snarls McClane. “It’s a country!” Cue cheers and air-punches in the US theatres, as Wiseman and Willis’ finger-wagging message to prospective “religious nuts” becomes clear: America breached is not America broken. It’s Die Hard 4: Must Try Harder. A pleasant and correct riff on modern terrorism, made palatable and processed, without all the nasty bad words or frightening people and the death and destruction bits pureed out. Die Soft, then…
Given Wiseman's lack of style or guile, Die Hard 4.0 is pining for the freshness JJ Abrams pumped into M:I:3. Dopey story, so-so script and mostly ordinary action. It's the ever-enjoyable Willis that makes it worth your while.