Die Hard 4.0 is a solid action movie, but while its action and tone are robust and entertaining, it feels over-familiar, overconfident, and over-long.

The film is based on a 1997 article in Wired Magazine, or, rather, an earlier script that draws heavily from the piece, with key elements of the Die Hard formula tacked on. The third instalment had a similar genesis, and even the original was based on a novel.

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It's been 19 years since John McClane (Willis) ran about in Nakatomi Plaza fighting cooly efficient East Germans, seventeen since he ran about fighting snow-covered rogue commandos, and twelve since he ran about New York answering riddles. Die Hard 4.0 sticks quite firmly to the established pattern. To reiterate then, McClane is drawn into the action by a mixture of accident and coincidence, the bad guys are of a nationality convenient to the action, someone is using the 'terrorism' as a distraction, is stuck with well-meaning if occasionally witless support, and spends almost as much time trying to undo the mistakes made by the 'good guys'.

Over the Independence Day weekend, America's infrastructure is attacked, a successive collapse of transport, telecommunications and financial services, the practical execution of a theoretical assault, known as a fire sale because "everything must go".

Drawn away from an early morning visit to his daughter Lucy (Deathproof's Mary Elizabeth Winstead), McClane is sent to collect journeyman hacker Matt Ferrel (Justin Long, Mac to John Hodgeman's PC). French mercenaries turn up, and then there's some parkour, and the cavalcade of set-pieces begins. Timothy Olyphant is alright as top bad-guy Thomas Gabriel, but he lacks the verve (or stomach for scenery) of the Gruber brothers portrayed by Rickman and Irons, or the cold competence of William Sadler's Colonel Stuart. He does have a nice line in wood paneled mobile command centers, but among his numerous multinational crew of henchpersons, only Maggie Q shines.

The hacking sequences are more credible than those in Hackers, but the technologies deployed are akin to those in Enemy Of The State, with which Die Hard 4.0 shares writer David Marconi. Backup facilities that occupy secluded compounds filled with giant cooling towers can be downloaded into rucksacks, PDAs can access satellites over disconnected cell phone networks, and CB radios have almost unlimited range. It also apparently takes five generators to light and power the house of the warlock or, as a chat window would have it, w0rl0ck, but judging by the number of trinkets in the Kevin Smith's "command centre" that might not be too fantastic. There's an obvious opportunity to make a joke about sequels that's totally missed, but there are a few digs at the expense of action figures and those who collect them.

At just over two hours, it could have perhaps have used careful editing, but the weaknesses can probably be traced to the script and twelve years of expectation. Die Hard as a franchise has always tended to self-awareness, and while the nods to previous excursions are often fun, and, almost inevitably climactic, one does have to wonder why none of the numerous bodies involved in fighting this massive attack appear to have heard of John McClane. His house has been door-stepped by network news, and international terrorists used to ask for him by name. Die Hard was a high point among Eighties action blockbusters, with its hero who got dirty and wounded and upset. In this fourth outing it's clear that he's capable of feeling tired, but unfortunately so are the films.

That said, it's still Die Hard. There's car smashes, helicopter crashes, gun fights, falls from heights, smart-looking equipment and dubiously inattentive law-enforcement. There's a single use of strong language, and if you've been paying attention you'll know exactly what it is by now. It's got prettier computers than Ocean's Thirteen, a more modern jet-fighter than Transformers, and government offices that owe more to Strangelove's War Room than anything assembled by the lowest bidder. The buddy movie stuff between Willis and Long works well, and Willis has done enough actual acting to be convincing dealing with his daughter.

Die Hard 4.0 doesn't do anything particularly new, but it does what it does very well. McClane is called a "Timex watch in a digital age", but that's not the insult it's intended to be, and works well for the film. It's well-built, reliable, and heavy with brand expectation. In a pinch you could probably spend your time another way, but it wouldn't have the same style.

Reviewed on: 27 Jun 2007
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Merlin Harries ****1/2

Director: Len Wiseman

Writer: Mark Bomback

Starring: Bruce Willis, Timothy Olyphant, Justin Long, Maggie Q, Cliff Curtis, Jonathan Sadowski, Andrew Friedman, Kevin Smith, Yorgo Constantine, Cyril Raffaelli, Chris Palermo

Year: 2007

Runtime: 130 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US

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Enemy Of The State