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Friday, June 29, 2007
'Live Free or Die Hard'
John, you old samurai, I love you
By KAORI SHOJI
Contrary to the above opening address, this isn't a Dear John letter, not at all. It's a real, genuine expression of affection from a viewer who has loved and followed your escapades since you first blasted onto the screen in 1988, in the first "Die Hard" movie ever made. Back then you had a crop of dark hair and your features were sharp, you sported an attitude the size of an oil rig and a mouth so filthy as to be an ecological hazard. But you were special. You were an action hero who smoked, sweated and panted, and the meager clothing on your back (mostly just a white tank top and pair of chinos) looked like they had been purchased at Woolworth's Holiday Special. But boy, could you move and what's more, you were doing it all on your own. Your specialty was beating a team of trained terrorists with nothing more than your bare fists, your worn police badge and maybe a rifle or two. Of course you got plenty pummeled in the process, which is part of the beauty of this series. But you always took the punches like a man and you had the best pained grimace in all of Hollywood.
The brilliance of the Die Hard series is that it's adamantly old-school action, and it's stubbornly YOU, John. Die Hard is all John McClane — times will change along with the cast, the directors will come and go, but you remain the one and only planet around which everything else revolves. I can't imagine you ever getting cleaned up or bending over a computer or fiddling with the keys on your cell phone and let the CG guys figure out the muscle choreography. No John, you were and still are, a real guy with credible biceps and a sizable, reliable gut. That's why we love you, even though you're not exactly the kind of guy one would invite to the house to meet your parents for dinner.
And now here you are, in your 50s, 12 long years after the last "Die Hard," which was so aptly called "Die Hard With a Vengeance," in which you downed a suave terrorist (played by that evil smoothie Jeremy Irons) even as he rained bullets on your backside from an incredibly noisy chopper. You look remarkably unchanged. Completely hairless on top but who can blame you — with a life like yours, the stress levels must be stratospheric. You still have awful taste in clothing but, luckily, fashion decrees that shirts should remain untucked. You look kind of cute, in fact. Maybe we'll have you over for barbecue after all, if not a sit-down dinner.
You've even become a little introspective, having reached that time in your life when you're wondering what it's been all about. After all the hard work and sacrifices, you're finding yourself divorced ("my ex-wife can't even remember my last name"), friendless, and alone. Your daughter Lucy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), who goes to college in New York where you live, will have nothing to do with you and even tells her boyfriend that you died a long time ago. On top of the daily depression, you get calls at three in the morning from your boss, telling you to go pick up some computer geek in Brooklyn (Justin Long) and transport him to New Jersey. That's how it starts, this time, the old "Die Hard" adage "in the wrong place, at the wrong time" kicking in like a mean old engine on a behemoth tractor. Oh, dear John. As usual, bullets shower on you like torrential rainstorms, a "smokin' hot Asian chick (played by former model Maggie Q)" — really John, don't you even know the meaning of the letters PC? — nearly shatters your rib-cage with karate and kick-boxing maneuvers and an F-35 fighter plane stalks you on the freeway and attempts to fry you and your 14-wheeler to the proverbial crisp. In the meantime your daughter is kidnapped by the bad guys (this time they're a group of cold, finicky, cyberterrorists helmed by a crew-cut model type who looks like he just walked off the runway for a Gucci show) and the aforementioned geek with the name of Matt, bleats how his blood sugar is low and could you pleeeease stop the police car at an Arbee's so he could at least go in and get some free packets of ketchup. It's not your day. But then we all know that it's NEVER been your day.
Typically, the worse things get the more you start to shine. At this point in time adversity works on you like champagne and massage oil and it's when things get awesomely disastrous that you come up with your best ideas. Like driving a police car up a ramp, jumping out in the nick of time and ramming that car right into a low-flying helicopter, a feat which you describe in five short words: "I was out of bullets."
Dearest John. Please, at 60 and at 70, please don't ever give up tossing off your signature line "Yippee Yi Kai Ay Motherf**ker!" — a solid rock of dependable profanity in an ever-changing world.