Die Hard has been the high-water mark for action-hero movies during the past 20 years: the best and the most influential. Bruce Willis's John McClane has been a defining trademark, with other films capitalizing on its hero vs. terrorists dynamic by changing the settings. Speed was described as Die Hard on a bus, Under Siege was Die Hard on a boat.
In the official Die Hard 2, McClane was no longer an everyman in over his head. He was Rambo. What had made the first movie unique was disposed of for something more routine. A Die Hard movie now only really has to deliver McClane's grouchy humour and some better-than-average excitement.
Live Free or Die Hard is an unneeded, too late, nostalgic indulgence. But when it works, it works. It finds the defining spirit of these films and maintains it about half the time. Expanding the series' terrorist targets to the United States of America doesn't fully justify the patriotic title. Live Free or Die Hard's plot to shut down the US deals more with issues of country than previous instalments, but its position is less clearly drawn. The terrorists broadcast their plan through spliced footage of various US presidents' speeches. It's an element of authoritarian distrust in a series that takes the unquestioned action-movie route of making a policeman its hero.
When McClane is assigned to pick up an expert hacker (Justin Long, from those awful Mac ads) they're made partners on the case. This permits lots of tiresome "I'm young and you're old" banter. But it also establishes McClane's out-of-time machismo as a dinosaur in a technically sophisticated era.
Generating suspense from characters working at computers is always dubious and it's above director Len Wiseman. Major action directors, from Martin Campbell to Tony Scott to John McTiernan, will often begin a shot with one action and end it in another. In Live Free or Die Hard we get too many shots of truck doors slamming and hands putting CDs in computers. It's frequently boring to look at.
When Bruce Willis gets to fight Maggie Q in an elevator shaft and when there's a road war on a collapsing freeway, Wiseman's passion is restored. Never the stunning genre comeback of Casino Royale, the movie lives in those moments where, in character and tone, it gets to be a Die Hard movie.
Canada welcomes back Michael Moore. Having concluded that nobody here ever locks their front doors, Moore has been hit with the insight that there aren't really long waiting periods in our socialized health-care system. Of course that's an absolute lie. But it's easier to be a follower when your leader doesn't believe in nuances.
Visiting hospitals in Canada, Cuba, Britain and France, Moore plays dumb when he asks where to drop off medical-bill payments. Widespread frustration over the lack of basic freedoms in the contemporary world means Sicko is, like every Michael Moore film, able to strike a nerve.
His intentions to expose the disgrace of US health care are noble. It's his approach that routinely invites distrust. Sicko hasn't even the handful of standout moments that made Bowling for Columbine and Fahrenheit 9/11 fun to tell friends about.
The "high point" has Moore bringing Americans in need of medical attention to Guantanamo, under the pretense the prison is providing free care for 9/11 terrorists. No other major filmmaker patronizes his audience this much. Moore cheapens liberal values under black-and-white thinking.
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