With a yippee-ki-yay motherfudger, super-grumpy supercop John McClane is back on our screens ... looking older, balder and so much worse for wear. Oh, and with a cleaner mouth this time. Yes, thanks to those greedy executives at Fox — who believe, in their heart of black hearts, that filmmaking is all about the bucks, not the art — we have a much kinder, gentler and almost expletive free Die Hard. In fact, the infamous f-word only crops up once in the entire film, although big John is allowed to let loose with the occasional asshole and dickhead. All in the name of a more family-friendly rating from the Motion Picture Associaton of America.
And sadly, this DVD release is just as tame as the theatrical version. But does the lack of foul language detract from the experience? For me (and countless others who debated this topic online for months) — yes, it does; it takes away that grittiness, that edge, the earlier films had, especially the first one. On the making of DH4, director Len Wiseman says: "They came to me and said, 'We want to do the most difficult thing: we want to reinvent Die Hard, make it modern, make it new and at the same time don't take way from what was great about the original and keep it the same'." Well, Len old buddy, I'm afraid you failed. And failed miserably. And actor Justin Long agrees, saying: "My parents wouldn't let me watch [the original Die Hard], that's the god's honest truth. I didn't see it until I was much older; I didn't see it until I saw it on TV. You know, they cut out all the swears and the blood, kind of like what we're doing."
But there’s enough action to almost, but not quite, make up for it. And thanks to Willis, who is on top of his game in the role that established him as a big-screen star, it’s still one of the more enjoyable movies of the year. This time the villain is that nice Seth Bullock from Deadwood, better known as actor Timothy Olyphant. He plays Thomas Gabriel, who was once a top systems designer for the US government. Now he's a disgruntled ex employee, pissed off that his former bosses ignored his warnings about the post 9/11 dangers. So instead he decides to teach them a lesson, and make a bit — well, quite a lot, actually — of money at the same time. He wants to show the US how easy it is for terrorists to hack into the computer systems that run the country by, er, becoming a terrorist and hacking into the computer systems that run the country. He's put together a team of computer whizkids — who, as in all Hollywood films about hackers, are lightning fast on a keyboard, never use a mouse and can easily make sense of incoherent lines of code scrolling rapidly up a screen. Right. Long story short: New York City detective McClane (just how many times can this guy be in the wrong place at the wrong time?) gets involved when he has to escort uber-hacker Matt Farrell (Long) to the FBI in Washington. Of course, Gabriel wants Farrell dead. Cue lots of extreme stunts involving cars, trucks, helicopters, lift shafts and, eventually, an F-16 fighter plane, which Brucie rides a la Arnie in True Lies. And the stunts are big, loud and impressive — and real, which is a nice change from this CGI-overdosed world we now live in. The humour is there, too. In one scene, after McClane has sent a police car hurling up a ramp and into a chopper, Farrell says: "You just killed a helicopter with a car." He replies: “I was out of bullets.” The world weariness is there too, perhaps more so than in the earlier films. “Know what you get for being a hero? You get shot at.” Lines like that go some way to grounding a film that verges on going a little too far into silly, overblown Schwarzenegger territory.
After an appalling amount of destruction and a pretty big (but fairly bloodless) body count, the good guys win, the bad guys get their comeuppance (in a scene that will have the hardcore Die Hard fans whooping for joy) and we just KNOW there will be a Die Hard 5 (not least for the fact that Gabriel has cleaned out McClane’s pension fund, so he’s now got a long way to go before retirement). Which means he's sure to have plenty of chances to piss off a few more terrorists. Director Wiseman, who until now has only made the two Underworld films, understands the action genre and keeps things moving at a fair pace. Olyphant is suitably smooth and evil as the villain — an American this time, which makes a nice change from all the Germans, South Africans and Brits we normally see. There are a few annoying lapses in logic (the New York Stock Exchange being open on July 4, the biggest holiday on the US calendar?) and stereotypes (the afore-mentioned computer whizkids, Gabriel’s Asian sidekick being a martial arts expert, and his machine-gun-armed minions being unable to hit the side of a barn). But all that’s forgivable in the world that John McClane inhabits. What really made the film for me, though, was indie director Kevin Smith playing the king of the hackers, Warlock. Who lives in his mother’s basement. And has a life-size cardboard cutout of Boba Fett. Perfect!
EXTRAS **** Aha, now we know where all those leftover "fucks" got to — they're all here, in the extras. And a damn fine extras package it is, too. For a start, there's more than an hour of making-of featurettes detailing everything from the fantastic stuntwork through to the editing and music scoring. There's also a terrific gag reel (where a few more of those missing "fucks" pop up); a commentary track with WIllis, director Wiseman and editor Nicolas De Toth; a terrific music video called Die Hard, by Guyz Nite (an yes, the chorus DOES go "yippee-ki-yay motherfucker"; Kevin Smith interviewing Willis (with, as you'd expect, lots of fucks); a Fox Movie Channel documentary called Fox Legacy; the requisite deleted scenes; documentaries about hackers aand homeland security; and funny-guy Justin Long taking us on a tour of his character's apartment. All good stuff. But the movie suffers from the lack of language and grit. So here's my advice. Don't buy Die Hard 4.0 in the UK. Head over to your favourite US-based online DVD store and pick up the unrated Region 1 edition, which appears to have had all the blood and swearing put back in...UPDATE: I've just finished reading My Boring-Ass Life: The Uncomfortably Candid Diary of Kevin Smith (and let me tell you, his life ain't boring; I can't speak for his ass, though). Anyhoo, the big fella (ie, Kevin Smith) tells the story of his few days' shooting on Die Hard 4, and how he rewrote the dialogue for his Warlock scenes he's in. And how he was told that they couldn't say "fuck" in the scenes. And how Bruce Willis took him aside and told him that they would shoot the scenes twice: "Len [Wiseman] and I have been shooting our secret cut of the movie all along, so that when we do the DVD, it'll sound more like the real Die Hard." So there you have it, from the man himself. And this begs the question: why are we in the UK being denied the REAL Die Hard 4.0? Could somebody from Fox please answer the question? Hello? Anybody??