Fri, Jul 20, 2007 - Page 16 News List

It's time to die free or live hard

He may be a bit long in the tooth, but John McClane keeps up with contemporary technology in his latest and last outing

By MANOHLA DARGISNY  /  NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , NEW YORK

Despite its jaw-jutting title, with its evocation of revolutionary America and radical individualism, Live Free or Die Hard keeps a tighter rein on McClane, dialing down his man-against-the-world attitude to a low hum. He's still more or less alone, at least existentially, though, as per the action playbook, he quickly picks up a sidekick and audience surrogate in the hacker impersonated by Justin Long (flicking between annoyance and amusement).

But McClane is also unequivocally playing for team America, helping the FBI and its no-nonsense, supremely capable deputy director, Bowman (Cliff Curtis), who runs the sillily named cyber division with blinking monitors and scurrying minions. Heroic in deed and in acquaintance, Bowman knows to side with McClane, saving his contemptuous looks for the guy from Homeland Security.

Nothing on Len Wiseman's resume - he previously directed the two Underworld flicks, wherein the Goth kids really are vampires - suggests that he could wrangle both Willis and this new film's nerve-jangling action to such satisfying effect. At least on the second count he has received terrific help from a sprawling cast of stuntmen and women (and the stunt coordinator Brad Martin), who do a great deal to advance the film's old-school mayhem. The use of Parkour during several fight scenes is particularly tasty, proving that when cinematic push comes to shove, the French, who originated this ultra-cool rough-and-tumble, which finds performers bouncing like balls from wall to wall, rooftop to rooftop and many hair-raising points in between, are definitely in the coalition of the willing.

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