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Welcome back, John

By Aaron Zundel

“Live Free or Die Hard”20th Century FoxDirected by Len WisemanWritten by Mark BombackStarring Bruce Willis, Justin Long, Timothy Olyphant, Jonathan Sadowski and Maggie QTwo-and-a-half out of four stars

When I originally heard that “Die Hard” was coming back to theaters, I was excited to spend some more time with terrorist-crushing super-cop John McClane.

But when I heard “Underworld” writer/director Len Wiseman was helming “Live Free or Die Hard,” my heart sank to the floor.

I didn’t see Wiseman being able to match the gritty grandeur of McClane’s initial adventure, wreaking havoc through 30 stories of Nakatomi Plaza.

Nineteen years after Nakatomi, however, it seems Wiseman didn’t waste any time attempting to live up to the glory days of the original “Die Hard.”

This time, McClane has to deal with American terrorists taking over the country’s computer network, and, in true McClane fashion, he needs a little help.

Teaming up with a caustically endearing, young computer nerd (Justin Long), the duo sets out to stop Gabriel, a disillusioned patriot/super hacker, before he sends America back to the stone age. Along the way, the two strike up some surprising on-screen chemistry while exchanging some legitimately funny dialogue.

“Live Free” vomits exposition fast, enabling it to get right to the action. Ten minutes into “Live Free,” two explosions, a gunfight and a double-digit body count have already assaulted the viewers’ visual senses.

To be sure, the film still has plenty of problems — for instance, McClane riding an F-35 Lightning fighter jet like a bucking bronco — but what “Live Free” lacks in believable staging it makes up for with its embrace of McClane as a hero from yesteryear. As Gabriel (Olyphant), the film’s main baddie, puts it, McClane’s “a Timex watch in a digital age.”

In a smart move by screenwriter Mark Bomback, McClane’s status as a low-tech action dinosaur is injected into the film itself. McClane proves that tenacity, some solid experience and good old American machismo are still worth more than all the shiny circuit boards and modern technical know-how on the planet.

For his own part, Willis is possibly the weakest link in “Live Free,” and it’s fortunate he has Long along for the ride — the young actor carries the movie in places where Willis feels a little stale.

Willis seems overly comfortable as McClane and goes through the motions of snappy one-liners and face smashing encounters with a little too much confidence. Long brings a vulnerability that gives “Live Free” the illusion that things might not work out the way McClane wants.

But perhaps the biggest problem with “Live Free or Die Hard” is it doesn’t really feel like “Die Hard.”

In the original three films, there was much more to McClane than a bloody shirt and a machine gun. Usually confined to some sort of space (even if it was a payphone or a airport terminal), McClane never had many choices about where he could go or what he could do. There was a palpable, claustrophobic feel to the films. In “Live Free,” however, McClane moves about the country at will, only taking fire when he sticks his nose where it doesn’t belong. Gabriel and his henchmen only seem to be interested in McClane when he’s dumb enough to shoot his mouth off.

Of course, after 12 years, it’s nice to have John McClane back in any form.

Who knows when we’ll see him again?

“Yippie kay-yay?wait?I can’t say that?but I’m supposed to say ‘Yippie-kay-yay mother?mother?Aw, screw the MPAA.” Bruce Willis resumes his role as badass John McClane in “Live Free or Die Hard.”

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