What does it mean to die hard? Does it mean, say, taking a long time to die? Dying a very complicated death? Or do you go out with a big bang, maybe? Like driving your car into a helicopter?
Here's a dude who would know what it means: John McClane, Bruce Willis' evergreen character of the Die Hard series. Of which, incidentally, there is a fourth installment opening this week: Live Free or Die Hard (I'd like to point out the nice little patriotic title). I think we can all agree that Bruce Willis is a fairly typecast man, but he bears it well. He's not really a comedy guy, unless you count lines like "yippee ki yay, motherfucker" (or the more confusing, television-friendly, "yippee ki yay, Mr. Falcon") as comedy. Which, fortunately enough for me, I do.
He's an action hero to the bone. His few missteps from that genre (Look Who's Talking, Look Who's Talking Too) can be forgiven by his comportment in real life. Here is a man who was one of the few celebrities that publicly supported the Iraq war (along with Arnold Schwarzenegger and fellow brother-in-arms Charlton Heston). In fact, it was reported that he so supported it that he tried to enlist in the army (but he was too old, boo). And let us not we forget the infamous one million dollar bounty he placed on Osama bin Laden's head. Later on, it was reported that he meant this only "hypothetically." As in, "I would like to hypothetically give one million of my own dollars to the roughest, toughest, scumbag that can take down Osama bin Laden." First of all: One million dollars? Jesus Christ. Could anyone even say they were offering up "One. Million. Dollars." without bursting out laughing? When some knucklehead started asking what the hell was up with that offer, the US authorities said it was illegal for a private citizen to offer a bounty on someone's head. Which anyone over the age of seven already knew. Doye!
In preparation for this article, I started asking a few of my friends what they thought of when they thought of Bruce Willis. Here's a selection of the thoughts they shared with me: "Baldness," "whenever I make my toes into a fist, I think of that scene in one of the Die Hards when he had to do that to walk over glass or something," "yippee ki yay motherfucker," "my first celebrity crush," "his funny appearances on David Letterman," "Demi Moore," and so on and so forth.
Strangely, no one questioned mentioned his acting credibility, which I think is a major oversight. He certainly has had the longevity to be considered a "serious actor." But has he had the roles? In the 12 years since the last Die Hard movie, Die Hard: with a Vengeance, Willis has been busy. Some would say that his roles are getting better, and that Willis is going through a John Travolta-style comeback. He's had some tough-guy, gritty roles (Pulp Fiction, Sin City), interspersed with a few voice-acting roles (Beavis and Butthead Do America, Over the Hedge) taking advantage of his sandpapery vocal cords, and of course you've got your bad ideas (The Story of Us, Lucky Number Slevin). If Bruce Willis is riding the crest of the comeback wave, we probably have his role as Lt. Muldoon in this year's Grindhouse to thank for it. Cult hits almost always equal a comeback, and for Willis, Live Free or Die Hard seems to be a natural extension of this trend.
To be perfectly honest, if I were Bruce Willis right now, I might be a little nervous. How does a younger generation relate to him? Sure, he mentored/made out with Lindsay Lohan, and his ex-wife is married to Ashton, but will Live Free or Die Hard be able to stand without previous knowledge of the first three movies? The trailers seem to address this; at one point, a nerdy younger character says, incredulously, "Who IS this guy?" and Willis tosses his head back and gives a gravelly laugh. That's the joke: We might not know who John McClane is, but we don't really need to.
Willis is the acting world's Springsteen. They both have a blue-collar, blue jeans sensibility, and his name is enough of a household fixture that you know you're supposed to think he's cool, even if you don't have any hard evidence as to why you should. And I think this is all going to work in John McClane's favour.
Live Free or Die Hard opens June 27. See “Movie Times,” for more info.